DETROIT. As drone technology infiltrates the freight space, most eyes are on final mile package delivery. This is small packages, usually just a few pounds, moving very short distances. Drones can be used for another type of freight movement, and one that has the potential to improve delivery of bulkier items like televisions, chairs, and maybe even appliances, over distances approaching hundreds of miles.
Yes, drones can do that.
Airspace Experience Technologies, a startup air mobility company, is developing an autonomous electric VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) plane. Jon Rimanelli, founder and CEO, told FreightWaves the goal is to have a working plane in testing by 2020, with a 2024-2025 timeframe for deployment.
The vehicle, called MOBi-ONE, was designed initially as a passenger vehicle that can seat up to five at a time. The design also allows it to haul up to 1,100 pounds and cover 65 miles on a full electric charge, or 260 miles on its hybrid range that utilizes up to 60 gallons of jet fuel, all at a cruising speed of 150 mph.
The plane will measure 26 feet front to back with a 38-foot wingspan. It is powered by four propellers and includes redundancies that allow it to safely land on the power of only two propellers. It also can glide to a safe landing, Rimanelli explained.
Designed to be autonomous, it can also be flown in pilot-assist mode and will likely launch in that variation during early testing. To charge the vehicle, Rimanelli says it would take about 20 minutes per 100 KwHr, or about 40 minutes for a full charge.
The ultimate goal is to develop a solution that will impact the $1.5 trillion “urban air mobility space,” Rimanelli said, and do it at low cost. The founder noted that discussions were held with Uber to learn what that company would look for in an air taxi. The hope is that a passenger could use the MOBi-ONE for a ride at a comparable price to an Uber.
Rimanelli believes the cost for a single vehicle will be equivalent “to an expensive SUV.” Maybe not in everyone’s price range, but certainly attainable for many, especially for freight companies.
When it debuted at last year’s Detroit Auto Show, the company said the goal was to have 2,500 aircraft based in the nation’s 50 largest cities by 2026. Because it is a vertical takeoff vehicle (it can also be used with a “very short takeoff,” Rimanelli said), space is not an issue. Using existing airfields, especially smaller airfields that are underutilized, provides a base of infrastructure for the expected rollout.
For shippers and freight companies, the range and weight allowance could offer additional flexibility when locating warehouses and distribution centers, especially for larger or bulkier items.