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Kawasaki's K-Racer Is a Robot-Carrying VTOL With a Ninja Heart
Vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft technology continues to advance. We're seeing more and more vehicles capable of performing various maneuvers that are simply not possible with conventional planes or helicopters. One of these machines is the K-Racer, a VTOL that can carry a robot to any remote location.

Kawasaki's K-Racer Is a Robot-Carrying VTOL With a Ninja Heart

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Although mainly known for its incredible sports bikes, Kawasaki is also active in the aviation and robotics industries. The company is busy creating aircraft engines, equipment, and, more recently, VTOLs.

Introduced in 2020, the K-Racer (short for Kawasaki Researching Autonomic Compound to Exceed Rotorcraft) looks like a helicopter at first glance. It has a 13.1-ft (4-meter) blade on top that you usually find on such aircraft. However, it doesn't feature any tail rotor. Instead, it has two smaller propellers mounted on short wings.

Both propellers work to provide thrust to push the VTOL forward by counteracting the torque generated by the main rotor. To achieve high-speed flight, which is usually not possible with conventional helicopters, the wings will generate lift as the aircraft flies forward, reducing the burden on the main rotor.

The unmanned aircraft gets its power from a 300-hp supercharged engine, the same one that makes the core of a Ninja H2R motorcycle. All of this tech was put to the test in the very same year when the vehicle was revealed to the world: the vehicle took to the skies at Taiki-cho Multi-purpose Aviation Park in Hokkaido, acing its maiden flight.

The company moved quite fast with the development of its aircraft, and in 2021 the K-Racer received some upgrades that took its VTOL abilities to the next level. The aircraft was already capable of carrying a payload of 220-lbs (100-kg), but Kawasaki decided that carrying cargo was not enough for the vehicle – so it improved its design, allowing it to carry another unmanned vehicle onboard as well.

We're talking about a small delivery robot made to be transported to remote regions or hard-to-access areas. Paired with K-Racer's abilities to take off and land in places that don't necessarily have runways, it makes for a great transport system. The VTOL now features a loading and unloading mechanism specifically created for the robot.

Kawasaki's delivery robot can operate on uneven terrain, and it was specially modified to be capable of boarding onto the K-Racer VTOL. Last year, in November, the two conducted proof of concept testing. The delivery robot, which carried along cargo, was loaded into the aircraft.

Next, the K-Racer took off with the robot, performing an automated flight. Upon landing, the cargo was also automatically delivered to its destination. All of the operations performed were carried out to test the capability of both machines of operating without human intervention.

Kawasaki plans to use the VTOL together with the delivery robots to respond to labor shortages in the logistics industry. Since the aircraft doesn't need a runway or big vertiports to take off and land, it will not be affected by traffic. Moreover, the company says it will be able to fly with the vehicle to any location, be it "deep in the mountains or on remote islands."

Although we're seeing just the prototype, Kawasaki announced that the K-Racer and its delivery robot have already successfully completed proof of concept testing. The testing results will be utilized to design a quick cargo transport system that can operate in less accessible locations, with the ultimate goal of delivering goods without the need for human workers.

Kawasaki released a clip of its proof-of-concept testing as well. The details are explained in Japanese. However, you can get the gist of what it's going on.

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