What do you get when you put a supercharged Kawasaki Ninja H2R engine inside an unmanned drone? Maybe you've never asked yourself that question. Kawasaki itself apparently did, though, and to all of our benefit, it's since demonstrated the answer.
The Kawasaki K-Racer project is a multidisciplinary effort put together by Kawasaki Heavy Industries. Taking some of the best technological advancements it's come up with across its various child companies, like Kawasaki Motors and Kawasaki Robotics, KHI has been working to advance its vision for what it calls "Near-Future Mobility" in the 2020s.
What Is The Kawasaki K-Racer Project?
Kawasaki K-Racer Unmanned Cargo Drone Delivery Diagram
Back in November 2021, Kawasaki first showed off its proof-of-concept prototype K-Racer X1. It's Kawasaki's first unmanned vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) drone to be powered by the supercharged engine taken from a Ninja H2R.
The purpose of this craft, says Kawasaki, is to transport cargo for logistics fulfillment. The project also involves a specially crafted delivery robot that boards the K-RACER along with the cargo. Once the payload is delivered, the delivery robot is there to complete last-mile delivery of the cargo to its final destination.
K-Racer, incidentally, is an acronym for Kawasaki Researching Autonomic Compound to Exceed Rotorcraft. (We promise we aren't making that up.)
How It's Going
Kawasaki K-Racer X2 Prototype Cargo Payload Testing
Earlier in January 2024, Kawasaki tested the second iteration of its K-Racer project. Called the K-Racer X2, this prototype has incorporated what Kawasaki has learned through its developments so far, and created a VTOL prototype that can successfully carry a 200 kilogram (just under 441 pound) payload.
It demonstrated this capability in the video you can see above, and says this will enable it to carry weights that regular drones cannot. So far, Kawasaki claims that this is "the largest [payload] ever flown by an unmanned aircraft developed in Japan." It's a very specific claim, to be sure, but it's still impressive.
Why Build The K-Racer Project At All?
Kawasaki Delivery Robot, which hitches a ride on the K-Racer to support last-mile cargo delivery.
According to Kawasaki, the idea comes from the increasing difficulties in deliveries and logistics in the more mountainous regions of Japan. People live in the mountains, and they need supplies. Viable services like those that the Kawasaki K-Racer project could potentially enable seem like an idea worth pursuing, in Kawasaki's view.
Other potential use cases for this technology include dangerous locations, or in the event of natural disasters. While motorcycles with skilled riders are frequently called upon to aid in delivery of supplies and relays of messages in emergency situations, an unmanned drone with carrying capacity like the K-Racer X2 could be incredibly useful.
The K-Racer X2 has an estimated range of at least 100 kilometers, or about 62 miles. Its estimated endurance is at least an hour, says Kawasaki. The company plans to continue testing and development, as well as work toward developing a mass-production version of this concept going forward.