The idea is simple: Shipping by air is fast, but expensive. Boat is much cheaper, but very slow. So why not send all those boxes and packages on an un-piloted, amphibious Boeing 777-sized drone that can fly point to point and eventually drop off as much as 200,000 pounds of cargo at a seaside port? It would carry that cargo at about half the cost of normal air freight thanks to a more efficient use of fuel and the lack of an expensive crew.
That’s the thinking behind Natilus, a Richmond, California-based startup that this summer plans on flying FAA-approved tests of a 30-foot prototype that’s about the size and weight of a military Predator drone. The flight will mark the first significant step toward upending the global freight forwarding industry. Eventually, CEO Aleksey Matyushev says, the company hopes to fly the prototype on 30-hour test runs, carrying up to 700 pounds of cargo, between Los Angeles and Hawaii.