A Canadian air cargo startup called Ribbit plans to test pilotless flights for deliveries in remote areas of the country. It has signed a $1.3 million contract with Transport Canada and Innovative Solutions Canada to begin autonomous test flights “within 12 months,” according to a statement.
Ribbit will provide the aircraft, remote crew and maintenance for a year to support cargo flights in rural northern Canada. Transport Canada will use the data collected to help inform future aviation regulations, standards and policies, in addition to providing a solution for rural supply chains.
“Many rural and remote areas are served by larger airplanes that fly infrequently. Ribbit takes a smaller aircraft and uses autonomy to drastically change the unit economics of that plane. This lets us offer reliable next-day or two-day service and improve supply chains” – CEO Carl Pigeon said in a press release earlier this month.
In order to make the plane lighter and have more room for cargo, the company removes the seats from the plane. It then converts the plane from pilot-controlled to self-flying by adding remote control software and hardware, essentially making it an oversized drone.
The idea for Ribbit began as a university project, as both Karl Peyton and cofounder Jeremy Wang are former students at the University of Waterloo. “We’ve been working with government, community and private partners to ensure this technology meets a real need. We look forward to enabling a future where anyone can send and receive goods quickly and reliably, no matter where they are,” said Wang.
Initially the project will focus on the transportation of time-critical goods. Eventually, the unmanned aircraft will be used for a variety of cargo operations, asset surveillance, maritime surveillance and other missions.