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UPS go electric—in the air

Written by Theo Koenig – April 22, 2021

Reviewed by Asaf Kedem

The American package delivery giant, United Parcel Service (UPS), have announced plans to integrate electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL) technology into their distribution network, starting in 2024. As distant as that may seem, the eVTOL technology, provided in this case by start-up BETA Technologies, is gaining serious momentum with companies such as Uber, Google, Airbus and even Rolls-Royce having already invested in prototypes of their own.

UPS have chosen to partner up with the Vermont-based start-up BETA Technologies for their electric aircrafts. The aircraft in question is called the ALIA-250c and has the following specifications:

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The aircraft is fixed with 4 vertical lift propellers and one pusher propeller for forward flight. The air-cooled motors are designed and manufactured in-house by BETA Technologies and have the advantage of spinning silently. Interestingly, the development process involves creating subscale versions of the aircrafts that match all of the characteristics of the full-scale aircraft. Testing of these unmanned subscale versions means that the vehicles can be designed to someday operate autonomously.

The hidden gem in BETA Technologies’ crown, however, might yet prove to be their charging stations, rather than the aircrafts themselves. Ensuring safe and rapid charging in less than an hour is a much tougher task than it may seem. Unlike electric cars and trucks, it requires the construction of a network of considerably larger and much complex charging stations integrated into a landing pad. Built from recycled shipping containers, the BETA charging stations include a pilot’s lounge, sleeping accommodations, as well as a repair and maintenance workshop. On top of charging the ALIA-250c aircrafts, they are designed to support the charging of electric cars, trucks, and are equipped with onsite solar power. The charging stations also have the added advantage of offering a second life to the aircraft batteries, after the first lifecycle of a battery is concluded. This is done by fitting the used batteries into the charging stations so that they can store energy for the new onboard batteries for currently operational aircrafts and other electric vehicles.

Delivery of the aircrafts to UPS is expected to begin in 2024 with 10 units, with an option to purchase an additional 150 vehicles. Unfortunately no information has yet been revealed as to whether any factories will be necessary or whether manufacturing partners will be brought in. We’ll make sure to keep you updated as BETA Technologies evolve.


Auto Trendy’s take:

Interest in electric aircrafts has grown tremendously over the last few years. With the industry quickly becoming saturated with new start-ups, companies will have to find new ways to distinguish themselves. BETA technologies have done exactly that. By providing an aircraft with advanced functionalities they have placed themselves well within the market norm. But beyond that, they have provided a network of charging stations that are already operational. This will give them a clear advantage in the future, especially when other electric aircraft manufacturers begin their search for charging solutions.