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The cargo air vehicle (CAV) prototype sits at the Boeing Research & Technology's Collaborative Autonomous Systems Laboratory in Missouri. The unmanned electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) CAV prototype is designed to transport a payload up to 500 pounds for possible future cargo and logistics applications.

Boeing unveils new unmanned cargo air vehicle prototype

Amazon continues to push ahead with unmanned aerial delivery vehicles as part of its Prime Air service. Start-up company Zipline is delivering medical supplies across East Africa with fixed wing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). However, major aircraft manufacturers are making a point to not be upstaged.

Recently, Boeing unveiled a new unmanned electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) cargo air vehicle (CAV) prototype designed to transport a payload up to 500 pounds for possible future cargo and logistics applications.

The company stated that it will be used to test and evolve Boeing's autonomy technology for future aerospace vehicles. Boeing has a previously demonstrated its UAV technology with platforms such as the Insitu ScanEagle, the Insitu Integrator, Insitu RQ-21A Blackjack, the Boeing/Schiebel S-100 CAMCOPTER, and the high altitude, long endurance (HALE) Boeing Phantom Eye. Boeing also produces the QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Target—which consists of converting retired F-16 aircraft into unmanned aerial targets for military weapons testing.

The CAV is outfitted with eight counter rotating blades coupled to a custom battery-powered electric propulsion system. While the CAV may be resized in later iterations, the current prototype measures 15 ft long, 18 ft wide, and 4 ft tall, and weighs 747 pounds.

"This flying cargo air vehicle represents another major step in our Boeing eVTOL strategy," said Boeing Chief Technology Officer Greg Hyslop. "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."

In less than three months, a team of engineers and technicians across the company designed and built the CAV prototype. It successfully completed initial flight tests at Boeing Research & Technology's Collaborative Autonomous Systems Laboratory in Missouri.

"Our new CAV prototype builds on Boeing's existing unmanned systems capabilities and presents new possibilities for autonomous cargo delivery, logistics and other transportation applications," said Steve Nordlund, Boeing HorizonX vice president. "The safe integration of unmanned aerial systems is vital to unlocking their full potential. Boeing has an unmatched track record, regulatory know-how, and systematic approach to deliver solutions that will shape the future of autonomous flight."

Boeing researchers will use the prototype as a flying test bed to mature the building blocks of autonomous technology for future applications. Boeing HorizonX, with its partners in Boeing Research & Technology, led the development of the CAV prototype, which complements the eVTOL passenger air vehicle prototype aircraft in development by Aurora Flight Sciences, a company acquired by Boeing late last year. Aurora is one of several companies currently partnered with Uber to develop an eVTOL urban transportation solution.

This also follows HorizonX’s investment in unmanned systems technology leader, Near Earth Autonomy, late last year, where the Boeing also announced a partnership to explore future products and applications for emerging markets such as urban mobility.

The investment in Near Earth Autonomy was the first in autonomous technologies by Boeing HorizonX Ventures since it was established in April. Near Earth Autonomy, a spin-off from Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, is a leader in software and sensor technology that enables aircraft ranging from sub-meter to full scale to inspect, map and survey terrain and infrastructure, as well as transport cargo autonomously.

Two of Near Earth’s groundbreaking achievements include the world's first full-size autonomous helicopter flights in partnership with the U.S. Army in 2010 and ongoing work with the Office of Naval Research developing an autonomous aerial cargo delivery platform for the U.S. Marines.

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