Several drone companies have investigated the development of cargo drones.
The Chinese startup company based in Bejing, Sichuan Tengden Technology, has revealed their ongoing development of a cargo drone capable of carrying 20 tons of cargo autonomously. It would then become the biggest unmanned commercial aerial vehicle in the world. Chinese aviation experts and an investment firm owned by the Chinese state set up the high-tech enterprise. The drone will feature eight engines, a wing span of 41 meters, and a flight capacity of up to 7500 kilometers, according to Sichuan Tengden Technology. The drone could also be used for other operations, such as forest monitoring, disaster scenes, and rescue operations. The drone’s first ever flight is set to take place in 2020. Sichuan also points out that, because there is no flight crew and less fuel needed, a cargo drone could halve the costs of conventional air cargo transportation. However, Sichuan is not the only company to invest in the drone cargo venture.
Natilus, a start-up based in California, is developing a similar 90-ton cargo drone. The drone is expected to be 60 meters long and will also take off for the first time in 2020. Last summer, they’ve already flew a 30-foot prototype FAA-approved test about the size and weight of military Predator drones. Natilus has the ambition to finally fly the prototype between Los Angeles and Hawaii on 30-hour test runs with a load of up to 700 pounds. The drones will be powered by turboprop engines and turbofan engines and standard jet fuel, flying at about 20,000 feet altitude. So while this is well below commercial airlines, being fuel-efficient is still high enough. And so, this would mean half the current commercial air freight transport costs, with lower fuel costs and no costly factor-in crew costs. Because the drones probably would not receive permission from the government to fly over populated areas, they are designed to take off and land in water. Then the drones would be taxed to a standard port where cranes would unload the cargo. The goal is to finish full-scale drone production by 2020, followed by testing and certification before commercial flights are started. For example, the company plans to sell the drones directly to customers such as Amazon and UPS, but also considers starting its own drone airline, flying with the branding of its customer.
Moreover, Boeing recently introduced a cargo drone that can carry up to 227 kilograms or 500 pounds. For testing purposes, they created an unmanned electric air vehicle prototype, with the ultimate goal being the development of autonomous cargo delivery vehicles. The prototype was shown back in January at CES in Las Vegas. It is powered by an environmentally friendly system of electrical propulsion and is equipped with eight counter-rotating blades for vertical flight. The drone weighs in at 339 kilograms or 747 pounds, 4.57 meters or 15 feet long, 5.49 meters or 18 feet wide and 1.22 meters or 4 feet high. The project is led by Boeing HorizonX–an aerospace company subdivision that aims to search the world for startups that offer revolutionary ideas. These companies aren’t the first to create delivery drones, but their prototypes are much larger and more powerful than, for example, the drones unveiled by Amazon, Google and UPS, which are more focused on delivering smaller items to the door. It seems that we are moving closer to a more efficient way of transporting goods through drones and ourselves. Could this be the future?