Drone tech
Gigantic, plane-sized drone could make air freight 50 percent cheaper. Pictured: Optimus, a drone manufactured by Airobotics, the Israeli drone maker that says it has recently been granted the first certificate in the world to fly a fully automated drone, with no human operator, is seen during a demonstration for Reuters near their offices in Petah Tikva, Israel, March 20, 2017. REUTERS/Nir Elias

Sending a package via air mail can sometimes be too expensive a proposition, which makes people settle for shipping cargo over long distances. However, airfreight’s advantage over shipping in terms of speed can’t be denied. Now, the whole scenario may soon change for the better.

Natilus, a Richmond, California-based startup is working on a plan to use large, plane-sized drones, which could transport around 200,000 pounds in a single trip from Los Angeles to Shanghai, which would cost half of what it costs on regular airfreight. The unpiloted, amphibious drone would be the size of a Boeing 777 airplane and could change the way the logistics industry works. It would save money by using fuel more efficiently and would also not need an expensive crew.

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“Airplanes aren’t going to slow down, And boats aren’t going to go faster. The drone concept adds something new. It adds to the intrigue,” Natilus CEO Aleksey Matyushev told Fast Company on Monday.

It will be running FAA-approved tests in summer 2017 using 30-foot prototypes, which would have the same proportions as those of a military drone, carrying around 700 pounds of cargo from L.A. to Hawaii. The prototypes will use Turboprop and Turbofan engines on standard jet fuel and fly at an altitude of around 20,000 feet.

The drones will fly much below commercial planes and will fly slower than a commercial jet plane, which will end up saving a lot of money in fuel costs.

Since the approval for the drones to fly over populated areas would be hard to get, they would be designed to take off and land in water, which will also obliterate the cost of landing gears. After landing, they would be taxied over to standard ports, where they would be unloaded using standard cranes.

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Nautilus’ goal is to finish production of a full-scale, over 200-feet drone by 2020 and start final testing and certification and finally begin actual flights by the end of the same year. The company plans to build hundreds of drones to be sold to companies such as UPS and FedEx and even retailers such as Whole Foods and Costco.

The company has already raised $750,000 in venture capital.