Bell Autopod Delivery Drone To Pack A Punch
The drone that delivers a package to your doorstep may someday be built by Bell Helicopter. The Fort Worth-based aviation giant is moving aggressively into the autonomous vehicle business and this week introduced one called APT — short for Automatic Pod Transport — that could be employed to perform a range of roles like being used by the by the military or even by retailers like Amazon.com.
“We think the opportunity for a vehicle like this is now,” said Scott Drennan, Bell’s director of innovation. “Bell can engineer, build, certify, field and maintain these vehicles in ways that some of these newcomers cannot,” Drennan said. “That doesn’t mean we ignore them. Our messaging was around what our core business is.”
Bell’s drone is a ‘modular, scalable vehicle’ that can be adapted to meet a customer’s need. Depending on the model, it can be small enough to handle loads up to 15 pounds, or big enough to transport 1,000 pounds. Bell claims it can fly farther and faster than many of its competitors.
There have been plenty of stories about Amazon’s efforts to develop drone technology that can drop off a package at your house. Drennan said there are still plenty of challenges before a drone can safely do that. Clearing numerous regulatory and safety issues will take time. These issues will include limited flying time and coordination with other aircraft.
“We’re pretty certain that’s going to take a lot more than folks have been talking about lately because that airspace around people’s yards is nonstandard,” Drennan stated. “But can you imagine a vehicle like this (APT) doing that? 10 to 15 pounds of all electric payload- that’s typically what customers like and they’re satisfied with the range and speed and simplicity of the vehicle.”
The first application for APT is likely to be military, which has fewer regulatory obstacles to sort out. Bell officials said a larger autonomous vehicle could deliver up to 1,000 pounds of ammunition to soldiers in a combat situation without risking a flight crew to get it there. “The military is already doing that today,” said Mitch Snyder, Bell Helicopter president and CEO. “They’re logistically moving elements of their logistic supply and resupply through some autonomous vehicles but we believe we’re going to bring some new ways of doing it, quicker ways of doing it.”
Some detractors of Bell did point out to that the drone revealed during a test flight at Fort Worth was a very complicated looking transitioning delivery drone from helicopter. Critics say motors on the tail sitting quad appear to move along with flying surfaces on the extended landing gear. These are lots of moving parts on something that should be simple in design. But Bell certainly has a direct line to the military and battlefield supply. N3143 might be the only one that exists, but perhaps it’s the only one that Bell has registered.
Last year, Bell took another step in drone technology, introducing the V-247 ‘Vigilant Tiltrotor’ for the Marine Corps. So Bell’s helicopter drones that deliver a package to your doorstep may be indeed become a reality someday.