Autonomous flights in Canada to soar as Ribbit gets CA$1.3M contract

 Autonomous flights in Canada to soar as Ribbit gets CA$1.3M contract

Image courtesy: Ribbit

The innovative cargo airline startup, Ribbit, has recently secured a CA$1.3 million contract with Transport Canada and Innovative Solutions Canada. This partnership aims to spearhead the testing of autonomous flights in Canada, mainly the remote regions of northern Canada.

As part of the agreement, Ribbit will supply Transport Canada with an aircraft along with the necessary remote crew and maintenance services. Moreover, Ribbit will facilitate autonomous cargo flights for Transport Canada for the following year. Insights derived by Transport Canada from this testing could play a crucial role in developing future aviation regulations and policies.

Ribbit believes its technology offers a promising solution to the logistical hurdles plaguing northern communities and businesses. Its track record includes over 200 hours of unassisted flight on a two-seater airplane, showcasing traction toward commercial service readiness.

“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.”

Ribbit CEO Carl Pigeon

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Autonomous flights in Canada to improve food security in remote regions

Established in 2020, Ribbit is a venture-backed cargo airline that employs self-flying airplanes. The company’s mission is to assist businesses in enhancing their supply chain and accessing new markets. It has pioneered software that can operate airplanes autonomously and holds the distinction of conducting Canada’s first hands-free, gate-to-gate flight. Ribbit is trying to actively collaborate with regulators and customers from both the private and public sectors to democratize transportation access.

By removing the back passenger seats and installing the necessary software and hardware, Ribbit transforms tiny aircraft from pilot-flown to autonomous ones. The company hopes to convert a six-seater aircraft with the help of this Transport Canada partnership to increase cargo capacity.

Communities that depend on the current system of airline cargo delivery only get deliveries every two weeks or so. Those towns could receive cargo daily with Ribbit’s uncrewed aircraft. Initially, Ribbit aims to deliver time-sensitive goods to northern Canada, where 120 million pounds of food are sold yearly. However, their long-term vision encompasses the use of autonomous aircraft for a broad spectrum of cargo operations and aerial work.

“Be it air cargo, asset monitoring, or maritime patrol, we have identified several applications for the technology. Customers appreciate our ability to understand their operations deeply—then reimagine them with autonomy.”

Ribbit COO Jeremy Wang

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Ribbit is the first autonomous cargo airline in Canada

28-year-old Wang is a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Waterloo, while Pigeon is a graduate of the University of Toronto. Wang was recently honoured with the Mitacs Entrepreneur Award by his alma mater. He was awarded for developing the first autonomous cargo airline in Canada.

Ribbit joined the University of Waterloo’s Velocity Incubator in 2019 while still in the ideation phase. In 2020, Wang and Pigeon used their funds to buy a two-seater jet, providing a kick-off to their Toronto-based startup. With Pigeon on board, the company conducted Canada’s first hands-free gate-to-gate flight in 2021.

In 2022, Ribbit obtained a Special Flight Operations Certificate, authorizing them to conduct uncrewed flight tests. Since then, the company claims it has received letters of intent from top retailers amounting to CA$42 million annually.

A few other startups are also innovating to commercialize autonomous flight technologies. Boston-based Merlin Labs has also just announced that it completed 25 autonomous test flights in Alaska. Merlin, which raised US$105M about a year ago, is conducting these tests under a US$1M contract with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Similarly, California-based Reliable Robotics is advancing safer flying systems for conventional aircraft after getting an FAA nod in August 2022.

Also read: Foodtech startup Syzl wins first prize at Collision PITCH


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