Our future visions for drone delivery might have started with just a box or two, but this 300 kg mega drone can transport huge loads without breaking a sweat.
Boeing’s rapidly evolving vision for drone delivery has diverged from its peers, transforming the venture from a retail-based service into a sophisticated means of materials transportation.
Unlike Amazon, UPS and DHL, all of whom have announced efforts to develop a drone delivery system that uses small ‘quadcopters’ to deliver online shopping or food, Boeing has recently revealed a prototype that could carry up to 226 kg, or as Wired puts it, “400 large Domino’s pizzas”.
A team of 50 engineers has been working tirelessly on the prototype, which in addition to its size is notable for its motor system. It has eight spinning blades and weighs more than 300 kg. For comparison, the delivery drones used by Amazon and UPS have two or three blades and generally weigh approximately 5 kilograms.
It is also able to function with relative autonomy using software from Near Earth Autonomy, which allows it to navigate and look for obstacles.
The prototype has completed its initial round of testing at Boeing’s lab in Missouri, USA, where it flew for 15 minutes and carried 68 kg. However, Chief Technologist Pete Kunz told Wired that he was confident it will be able to carry more than twice that in the near future. Furthermore, they predict that it will be able to fly at an approximate speed of 90-100 km per hour, and as high as “a few hundred feet” – perfect for quick trips.
What will it do?
Despite its mass pizza carrying potential, it remains unclear what the drone will ultimately transport. Although Boeing hasn’t yet confirmed a timeline for commercialisation, Logan Jones, senior director of HorizonX (Boeing’s business ventures branch), said potential uses include toting supplies to offshore oil rigs or “any other dull, dirty and dangerous work now done by helicopters, which require expensive human pilots.”
Jones also suggested the drones might be used for moving supplies around in combat areas.
While plans for Amazon, UPS and DHL have been slowed by logistical complications, a drone delivery service that focuses on more isolated areas could be implemented much faster. As Wired noted, flying around more rural and controlled environments (where you can have things like designated landing pads) should be easier.
Could it bring us closer to flying cars?
The drone is part of a broader initiative at Boeing to transform air travel, forming part of their unmanned electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) strategy.
The prototype follows a recent announcement that the company had acquired Aurora Flight Services, an aviation and aeronautics research company that, along with a number of other firms, have been charged with developing a network of “flying taxis” for Uber.
In a statement, Boeing said the drone would complement these air taxis.