While Amazon has been talking about drone deliveries since 2013, it was actually 7-Eleven that beat them when they successfully did the first commercial drone delivery on 11 July 2016. They delivered Slurpees, donuts, candy and a chicken sandwich to a private residence in Reno Nevada. Amazon quickly upped their game and, along with courier giants DHL and UPS, have since made a number of drone deliveries.
Not content with carrying small payloads like fast food and sweets, Boeing set out to create a monster of a drone capable of carrying much heavier loads. Their massive powerful electric, unmanned cargo air vehicle can airlift up to 500 pounds.
Without a specific goal in mind, Boing set out to get involved in the drone revolution but wanted something with a lot of power. The result is a 747 pound 8 propeller drone or unmanned aerial vehicles that can carry the giant loads as far as 20 miles. It was built by a group of 50 engineers, all top propeller heads. The team, effectively a division of Boeing, are known as HorizonX. This division of Boing seeks out and develops unique and innovative startups in the aerospace and related fields.
The project took three months to complete and was a collaboration between Boeing and helicopter experts Bell.
Boing has no immediate plans for the powerful UAV but they understand the necessity to have “on demand mobility”. They have certainly achieved that with this still to be named drone. The drone can be used to replace costly manned helicopter trips, particularly when there is danger involved.
Obstacle avoidance technology and navigation were provided by Near Earth Autonomy, a company that HorizonX has an interest in.
Initial testing was carried out in an indoor environment at Boeing’s Missouri based autonomous systems lab. The prototype flew a 150-pound load for 15 minutes. The HorizonX team are confident they will reach a capacity of 250 to 500 pounds before long and be able to fly at a few hundred feet at around 60 to 70 mph.
In terms of specs, the drone weighs in at 747 pounds, by sheer coincidence, and measures 15 feet in length, four feet tall and 18 feet wide.
The power and strength of this new development will allow it to perform a number of heavy-duty tasks such as carrying supplies to offshore oil rigs or take entire pallets from a port to a distribution center. There are a number of applications that such a craft would be suitable for and the two advantages it has is that it is significantly less expensive than a manned helicopter trip and there is no risk to human life. It fills the gap between large truck deliveries and smaller hand to hand deliveries.
While delivery drones are nothing new, this development is a game changer in terms of the power and carrying capacity of this new UAV. It opens the door to a host of new delivery opportunities and will certainly inspire the market and drive other manufacturers to develop more powerful drones.