A startup with big dreams is devising a freight service with drones. We’re not exactly talking Amazon Prime Air here, we’re talking an aircraft-sized, fixed wing autonomous flyer that fits in-between a boat and an airplane for cargo hauling services.
Adding to the challenge of the project, but also to the excitement of the aircraft, Natilus will make their drone an amphibious design. Their operations seek to beat ocean going vessels in terms of freight delivery speeds, but dramatically reduce the costs as compared to traditional aircraft freight services.
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As most of you already know, a typical electric drone needs to be less than 55 lbs to fly legally in the United States. Natilus is, as far as we’re concerned, building an autonomous airplane here, not a “drone” in the same sense that we often explore. Let’s not get caught up on semantics though, this is a pretty neat project.
The ultimate goal is a fleet of 777-sized cargo haulers, capable of carrying 200,000 lbs of goods across the ocean. I keep referencing water for one major reason, we are far too many years away from FAA approved autonomous flight over populated US soil. A 30 foot prototype has been cleared to fly over water, however, the team is determined to start test flights soon.
The economics of this project are sound, boats are slow, planes are expensive, at least as far as getting cargo over the ocean is concerned. Further, international airplanes have limited places they can land, the amphibious drone can land anywhere there is ample water, then float into port for cargo transfer.
We wish we could have told you this was an electric project, but it’s not, Natilus will use turboprop and turbofan engines with normal jet fuel. The fuel savings and cost cutting comes in form of slimmer aircraft, not requiring space for a crew onboard, and reduced manpower, as autonomy takes over our transportation around the globe.
Starting later this year, keep an eye out in the 20,000 ft elevation range over the ocean, you may see the prototype of what will one day be a Natilus craft carrying your next online order.