Transportation drones have the potential to cut air freight costs in half

US-based startup Nautilus has an ambitious plan: It want to cut air freight costs in half by means of a transportation drone the size of a passenger jet.

Inexpensive, fast, unmanned – a transportation drone as big as a Boeing

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Creating a transportation drone that combines high speeds, low costs, and large payloads might sound like pure fantasy, but in an era of steadily growing international transportation volumes, Nautilus’ vision is more than just merely interesting.

Its proposed freight drone would be similar in size to a Boeing 777 (length of 63 m, wingspan of 61 m) and be used for overseas transportation in particular. According to the startup, the aircraft would cover the route from Los Angeles to Shanghai in about 30 hours. While this is almost three times longer than what a similarly sized Boeing needs for the same journey, the drone would only cost half as much: USD 130,000 instead of USD 260,000. However, with a volume of 91 tonnes, it could carry substantially more cargo than a 777.

The megadrone also comes off well when compared with ships, which need a good three weeks to get freight across the ocean, at a price of EUR 61,000 no less. Going by drone could represent a viable alternative.

Flexibility for take-off and landing

The startup states that usage of its drone would not impede conventional air travel, as the propeller-powered Nautilus aircraft would fly at an altitude of merely 2,000 meters, far lower than airplanes.

“60 m long, transportation volume of 91 metric tonnes, and independence from airports.“

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One other feature of the drone makes it particularly flexible: Because it can land and take off on bodies of water, it doesn’t need an airport. This represents a huge advantage over the cargo planes currently in use, as it does away with high charges.

Testing the prototype

Nautilus wants to prove before the end of 2017 that its plans for a freight drone are viable. The company has constructed a 9-meter version for trial flights between Los Angeles and Hawaii. The company has already scored its first success, even before take-off: The US aviation authority, FAA, has approved the undertaking. It will be exciting to see if Nautilus can get its visionary ambitions to literally “take flight”.