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Boeing unveils prototype of heavy-duty electric cargo drone

SEATTLE — There is a race right now among several companies to come up with ways to deliver items in the air. Amazon, for example, has patented several drone ideas.

Boeing is also putting a vehicle in this race with a prototype that could revolutionize air travel and transport in ways we have never seen before, they said.

On Wednesday, Boeing unveiled a new unmanned electric vehicle vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) cargo air vehicle (CAV) prototype inside Boeing’s research lab near St. Louis.

The possibilities of what the prototype is capable of have those who worked on the project buzzing.

"Whether it be heavy industries like mining or construction, lifting hundreds of pounds of machinery up high and far. Time will tell what it's use cases are," said Logan Jones, senior director for Boeing HorizonX

It took Boeing engineers only three months to make the prototype from scratch. The prototype is 15 feet long, 18 feet wide and 4 feet tall. To help lift it off the ground, it also has eight rotating blades. The prototype is also capable of carrying between 250-500 pounds, according to Boeing.

"It's electrically powered. It weighs about 750 pounds. To fly that 750 pounds, we're putting roughly 300 horsepower into this," said Pete Kunz, chief technologist for Boeing HorizonX

Boeing sees this prototype as a test bed for other unmanned flight technology in  the future, whether the payload is cargo or passengers.

"We have partners like Aurora Flight Sciences working on the passenger segment of that, looking at a different market, which results in different configuration," said Kunz. "And on top of that, there's a number of other activities in electric flight, electric propulsion and autonomy.  "

According to Boeing the next step is to test the prototype outside in different weather conditions. They also want to gauge the business interest in technology like this.

"Just like we look at small drones for that package delivery, the thing that brings it to your doorstep, there is a room and a need for something before that to fill out that logistics chain in a space that may be more austere," said Kunz.

Boeing engineers said something like this could potentially hit the marketplace in the next couple of years, but also say the technology is changing constantly.

So what they're working on today could be obsolete later.