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Gigantic drones may be the key to low-cost air shipping

Natilus wants to cut the price of air freight in half.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
March 27, 2017
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Wonder why some companies still ship products on boats instead of speedy aircraft? It's because air freight is much more expensive -- the costs of the crew and fuel quickly add up. Natilus, however, thinks drones might offer a solution. The startup is prepping enormous, 200ft-long drones (roughly the size of a Boeing 777) that would haul up to 200,000lbs of cargo over the ocean. They'd theoretically reduce the cost of air freight in half by eliminating the crew and improving fuel efficiency. And while the drone likely wouldn't be cleared to fly over populated areas, that wouldn't matter -- it's designed to land on water and unload its goods at a seaport.

The idea is ambitious, to say the least, but there is a practical roadmap for making it a reality. A 30-foot prototype is poised to fly near San Francisco this summer. If that goes well, the next steps are finishing a full-scale prototype (due in 2020) and taking customers.

The main obstacle? Funding. As Fast Company explains, Natilus is currently a tiny company with three regular employees and under $1 million to its name. It's going to need a lot of interest from investors to make its drones a reality. Thankfully, that might not be too hard. If the project works as planned, it could cut overseas shipping times down to less than a day without leading to absurd costs. You'd be more likely to get your online orders quickly, and it would be more practical to ship time-sensitive products like food.

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