Amazon has made headlines over the past year with a big push for unmanned package deliveries using UAV technology, showing the world what the future cold look like with drones being utilized to deliver consumer goods. Their technologies, which are still in development, could completely revolutionize global commerce, making it faster and easier for consumers to shop online.
Amazon’s projects are definitely interesting, but they’re not the only company to investigate UAV technology for means of delivering cargo. Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company, has recently tested a UAV that they hope will go far beyond the capabilities of the small drones that Amazon is testing in the United Kingdom. Instead of carrying small payloads for one-off deliveries, Boeing is developing a UAV that the company hopes will carry payloads of up to 500 pounds.
Boeing’s Prototype Uses Groundbreaking eVTOL Concepts
Boeing’s drone prototype uses eVTOL technology, a special branch of VTOL that uses electric propulsion. Vertical Take-Off and Landing is ideal for an autonomous drone because it allows for navigation in built-up areas, with take-off and landing possible without the use of a runway. Boeing is no stranger to VTOL, having experimented extensively with their X-50A dragonfly in the early 2000s. This was a UAV that incorporated design elements from both helicopters and fixed wing aircraft.
The X-50A was ahead of its time, and could manage speeds of up to 700km/h, with cruising speeds of 278km/h. This project ultimately failed, but it is clear that Boeing didn’t give up on the VTOL UAV concept completely. More than 10 years later, the company is having much more success.
A team at Boeing was able to design their latest UAV in a project that ran for just three months. Unlike the X-50A, the unnamed prototype successfully completed initial test flights at Boeing’s research facility in Missouri. Powered entirely by battery cells this initial concept could be an indication of what we are to see in the future. Looking at consumer drones on the market, it’s clear to see that significant advances have been made in a relatively short period. It’s not unrealistic to expect a well-resourced company like Boeing to have a fully functioning UAV ready for production in the next ten years. With 500 pounds of payload being the target, there are a number of applications that would be well suited to the UAV.
Some examples include:
- Delivery of relief and humanitarian aid in dangerous areas.
- Delivery of emergency and medical supplies.
- Search and rescue.
- Cargo delivery that doesn’t rely on ground transport.
Greg Hyslop, the Chief Technology Officer at Boeing said in a press release that “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.”
A Proof of Concept That Will Provide Value on Future Projects
Boeing’s test was performed with a device that they don’t intend to bring to market. The test can instead be seen as a proof of concept. From here, the company will be able to look at the prototype as a basis for future innovation. The company is thinking larger than just cargo delivery, and has parallel projects for eVTOL passenger aircraft.
DJI is the darling of the UAV word at the moment, thanks to their huge popularity in the consumer drone market. The relatively affordable consumer devices receive most of the press attention because they appeal to the imaginations of a wide range of demographics. DJI deserves full credit for taking drones to a mainstream audience, but it is companies like Boeing that are doing the most important concept work.
With a device that can carry heavy payloads or even passengers, the concept of a UAV would change completely. Rather than being just devices for entertainment, photography, or reconnaissance, drones could eventually be seen as airborne vehicles in their own right. Boeing’s prototype measures 15 feet long and 18 feet wide, and weighs 747 pounds in total. That puts it at over 1200 pounds with a full payload. Boeing has the right knowledge of regulatory framework as well as proven research and development processes to make such a large UAV safe for operation, and the influence of the company could add even more credibility to the steadily growing drone market.
META: Boeing tests a new drone concept using eVTOL technology. With payload of up to 500lbs, this could be the prototype that shapes the future of UAVs.