Boeing has shown an autonomous drone designed to carry cargo and bulk shipments with its unmanned electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) cargo air vehicle (CAV) prototype.
Built in three months, the prototype successfully completed initial flight tests at Boeing Research and Technology’s Collaborative Autonomous Systems Laboratory in Missouri, the company said on Wednesday (US time).
Boeing chief technology officer Greg Hyslop said the prototype represented a major step in the company’s eVTOL strategy.
“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,” Hyslop said in a statement.
The aircraft, which is 4.57m long, 5.49m wide and 1.22m tall, is powered by an electric propulsion system with custom Boeing batteries and features eight counter rotating blades to allow for vertical flight. It weighs 339kg.
The CAV is designed with a payload of 226kg for “possible future cargo and logistics applications”.
Boeing said the prototype would be used as a “flying test bed to mature the building blocks of autonomous technology for future applications”.
Further, work on the CAV prototype “complemented the eVTOL passenger air vehicle prototype aircraft in development by Aurora Flight Sciences”, which Boeing acquired in late 2017.
Boeing HorizonX, which was established in 2017 and is the vehicle in which Boeing makes investments in early-stage businesses, led the CAV prototype project.
“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,” Boeing HorizonX vice president Steve Nordlund said.
“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.”
The development of autonomous cargo vehicles, from Boeing and others, is part of efforts to overcome the high cost transporting goods by air, which is fast but expensive. By contrast, sending cargo on ships, although cheaper, is much slower.
Boeing published a video of the prototype on its YouTube channel.