Aircraft manufacturing giant Boeing has unveiled a prototype drone that it says will be used as a base for its future developments of unmanned and autonomous air systems.
Its “unmanned electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing cargo air vehicle” (CAV) was designed and built by engineers within three months and successfully completed initial flight tests at Boeing’s research lab in Missouri, the company said.
Powered by an electric propulsion system, the CAV prototype has eight counter rotating blades, which allow it to lift up to 225kgs of cargo. It measures 4.57m long, 5.49m wide, 1.22 metres tall and weighs 339kgs.
Steve Nordlund, vice president of Boeing HorizonX, the unit that developed CAV, said the prototype could revolutionise logistics and delivery services.
“Our new prototype presents new possibilities for autonomous cargo delivery, logistics and other transportation applications,” he 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.”
Greg Hyslop, Boeing’s chief technology officer, said the CAV was just a precursor to the company’s many future autonomous flying craft projects.
“This flying cargo air vehicle represents another major step in our... strategy,” he said.
“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 unveiling comes just four months after Boeing announced it had acquired Aurora Flight Sciences – an aviation and aeronautic research company, which has partnered with Uber to develop a network of “flying taxis”.
The company is also the main sponsor of a $2m contest to build a functional, safe, quiet, ultra-compact jetpack capable of carrying a single person 20 miles or more without refuelling or recharging.
Boeing’s announcement also comes as the race intensifies to advance battery technology and electric motors to lower flying costs and move away from fossil fuels.
In October, Seattle start-up Zunum Aero – backed by the venture capital arms of Boeing and JetBlue Airways – announced plans to bring a small hybrid-electric commuter aircraft to market by 2022.
In November, Airbus, Roll-Royce and Siemens joined forces to develop a hybrid electric engine, with Airbus responsible for the control architecture of the propulsion system and batteries.