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Aerospace giant Boeing has unveiled the first stage of its eVTOL (electronic vertical take-off and landing) strategy with a prototype of a ‘cargo air vehicle’.
In the space of three months, Boeing engineers have put together a prototype cargo drone capable of carrying a payload of up to 500 pounds for logistics applications.
It’s not quite the ‘impossible’ task the company’s PR department would have you believe, given the resources, expertise and technology at its disposal. But it’s still an impressive platform that could provide the foundations for a shift in the way we think about logistics.
The prototype is powered by an electric propulsion system, has eight counter-rotating blades and measures 15 feet long (4.57 meters) by 18 feet wide (5.49 meters) and 4 feet tall (1.22 meters). It weighs 747 pounds (339 kilograms).
Boeing has big ambitions in the autonomous cargo delivery space. It’s a sector that offers plenty of opportunities, considering the potential applications in retail, military and logistics over short distances.
This prototype probably won’t be seeing action anytime soon, but it will act as the platform that those ambitions are built upon.
As the company’s David Nealy confirmed, “The goal is to grow into a large-scale cargo platform. When you think about delivering 250 to 500 pounds over a 10 to 20 mile radius, you can change the way that the world connects, you can change the way that we deliver goods.”
Chief technology officer Greg Hyslop, meanwhile, pointed to the perfect storm of emerging technologies that is making autonomous cargo deliveries at scale a matter of when, not if.
“We’ve got a convergence of technology right now,” he said. “Hybrid electric propulsion, vertical take-off and landing and autonomy…are going to unlock air travel in areas that we haven’t seen before.”
The development of the prototype was led by the Boeing HorizonX venture group and its partners in Boeing Research & Technology. The cargo drone and ambitions in the logistics space complement the eVTOL passenger air vehicle prototype aircraft in development by Aurora Flight Sciences, a company acquired by Boeing at the end of 2017.
“Our new CAV (cargo air vehicle) prototype builds on Boeing’s existing unmanned systems capabilities and presents new possibilities for autonomous cargo delivery, logistics and other transportation applications,” saidSteve Nordlund, Boeing HorizonX vice president.
“The safe integration of unmanned aerial systems is vital to unlocking their full potential. Boeing has an unmatched track record, regulatory know-how and systematic approach to deliver solutions that will shape the future of autonomous flight.”
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The unmanned cargo aerial vehicle (CAV) prototype is much larger than anything you can find in a store. It’s 15 feet long (4.57 meters), 18 feet wide (5.49 meters) and 4 feet tall. It also weighs 747 pounds.
A team of Boeing HorizonX engineers worked on the cargo drone for 3 months, equipping it with eight propeller blades and vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) capabilities. It recently completed its first series of test flights at Boeing’s research lab in Missouri.
“This flying cargo air vehicle represents another major step in our Boeing eVTOL strategy,” said Greg Hyslop, Boeing Chief Technology Officer, in a statement. “We have an opportunity to really change air travel and transport, and we’ll look back on this day as a major step in that journey.”
The Future of Autonomous Aircraft
Specifics related to the drone’s top speed and range were not shared. However, that’s not too unsurprising, given it’s unlikely Boeing will mass produce this particular drone.
“Our new CAV prototype builds on Boeing’s existing unmanned systems capabilities and presents new possibilities for autonomous cargo delivery, logistics and other transportation applications,” added Steve Nordlund, vice president of Boeing HorizonX. “The safe integration of unmanned aerial systems is vital to unlocking their full potential. Boeing has an unmatched track record, regulatory know-how and systematic approach to deliver solutions that will shape the future of autonomous flight.”