Boeing has unveiled a pilotless or unmanned aerial vehicle which can take off and land vertically, and carry up to 500 pounds.
Boeing says the prototype “multi-copter” UAV is part of its plans to “further develop and mature the building blocks of autonomy and electric propulsion”.
The new unmanned electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) cargo air vehicle (CAV) prototype will be used to test and evolve Boeing’s autonomy technology for future aerospace vehicles.
It is designed to transport a payload up to 500 pounds for possible future cargo and logistics applications.
Boeing chief technology officer Greg Hyslop says: “This flying cargo air vehicle represents another major step in our Boeing 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.”
In less than three months, a team of engineers and technicians across the company designed and built the CAV prototype.
It successfully completed initial flight tests at Boeing Research & Technology’s Collaborative Autonomous Systems Laboratory in Missouri.
Boeing researchers will use the prototype as a flying test bed to mature the building blocks of autonomous technology for future applications.
Boeing HorizonX, with its partners in Boeing Research & Technology, led the development of the CAV prototype, which complements the eVTOL passenger air vehicle prototype aircraft in development by Aurora Flight Sciences, a company acquired by Boeing late last year.
Steve Nordlund, Boeing HorizonX vice president, says: “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.
“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.”
Powered by an environmentally-friendly electric propulsion system, the CAV prototype is outfitted with eight counter-rotating blades allowing for vertical flight.
It measures 15 feet long (4.57 meters), 18 feet wide (5.49 meters) and 4 feet tall (1.22 meters), and weighs 747 pounds (339 kilograms).
Chicago-based Boeing is the world’s largest aerospace company and leading manufacturer of commercial jetliners and defense, space and security systems.
A similar initiative to build a pilotless aircraft – of a more conventional, much larger airplane design style – has been launched by a startup company called Natilus but that has not yet reached prototype level.
Amazon has also been testing drones for delivery, but they’re much smaller, designed to carry one or two small parcels at a time.
Numerous companies are developing solutions for this newly emerging market, but Boeing’s name and the design of its new UAV – much larger than the average drone – will probably help set it apart.