(CALIFORNIA)

Unmanned drones are increasingly being used to carry out activities traditionally done by humans: delivering medical supplies, pizzas and recording live events – to name a few. Transporting goods worldwide could soon be added to the list.

A US-based startup is developing a large amphibious aircraft drone with the potential to radically transform and reshape the global transportation of goods industry. Natilus is a pioneering group of aircraft designers and military drone specialists who say they have identified a sweet-spot in the international freight market between sea and air freight.

According to the company, it can slash 50% off the cost of delivering cargo – compared to the price of a Boeing 747  – and can transport it 17 times faster than a standard cargo ship.

It cites slower flying speeds and the early adoption of electric engines for what it estimates will be a reduction in fuel burn of 50%.

Giving the example of transporting 200,000lbs of cargo from LA to Shanghai, Natilus says its amphibious drone would cost $130,000 compared to $260,000 with Boeing.

On the advantages of it being amphibious, the company added: “The ability for Natilus drones to take off and land in the water means that the drones do not require long airstrips and other restricting infrastructure to function.”

With reduced labour and fuel costs, Natilus expects to make swift progress within the industry.

The company’s aggressive scaling strategy sets out a timeline, which starts with the testing of a 30ft prototype later this year. This is to be followed in 2019 with an 80ft drone, for its first customer – capable of carrying 40,000lbs, which will fly routes between LA and Hawaii. A year later the company expects to begin flights to China with a 140ft production vehicle boasting a 200,000lbs cargo capacity.