Drone

China Daily reports that Chinese engineers soon will have a world-record-holding product to offer to express delivery companies: the largest civilian drone.

Engineers at Beihang Unmanned Aircraft System Technology, a part of Beihang University in Beijing, are designing a drone that will be able to fly 1,500 kilometers carrying 1 metric ton of cargo.

They plan to finalize their design before year’s end and construct a prototype in 2019 for test flights scheduled to start in 2020. Mass production will begin if test flights are successful, and a drone-based delivery network is expected to take shape around 2025, said Zhang Shuo, chief designer at the Beihang technology company, in an exclusive interview with China Daily.

The yet to be named drone will be so big that if it were to carry people, it easily would hold nine passengers, according to the company.

It will be 11.9 meters long, with a wingspan of 19.6 m, and have a maximum takeoff weight of 3.6 tons. The craft will be powered by two engines and have 16 cubic meters of cargo space.

The company expects to sign a strategic partnership agreement on Thursday with logistics company Cainiao, which is controlled by Chinese e-retailing giant Alibaba Group, to jointly develop and market cargo drones, Zhang said.

“We’re targeting express delivery enterprises as major users of our drone because they are projected to be the largest users of commercial drones. We believe that Chinese couriers will like a powerful craft suitable for cross-province cargo delivery, especially in remote or mountainous regions or islands,” he said.

Illustration shows planned civilian drone. Illustration shows planned civilian drone.

The Beihang drone will incorporate lots of artificial intelligence, enabling it to not only control itself during entire flights but also autonomously determine and cope with malfunctions, Zhang said. It will cruise at a high speed, 360 km/h, and be able to take off and land on short, rough runways.

Typical delivery drones are small models used on a small, experimental scale by a handful of technology-savvy firms like Amazon.com, DHL Express and Chinese online retail giant JD.com. Continue reading about the worlds largest civilian drone.

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