Drones Disrupt Classic Shipping


It’s Sunday and another weekend has gone by with your kitchen remodel undone. Why? You are waiting for that special faucet or hardware that is coming from overseas.  The shipping industry has a challenge. Customers have more choice with products from around the world able to be ordered with a click but their manufacturers struggle with varying shipping times. Shipping by air is fast, but expensive. Shipping by boat is much cheaper, but very slow. In fact, according to SeaRates, a marketplace established for people sending  goods around the world, getting a package from Boston to Sochi can take as long as 24 days. The problem is complicated; companies like FedEx and UPS have longed for a solution. Now California-based startup called Natilus has been reimagining the future of international and domestic cargo transport.

The Plan

Natilus plans to send packages through an un-piloted, 80 foot drone that can fly point to point and eventually drop off as much as 200,000 pounds of cargo at a seaside port. Is this concept too good to be true? After all, it will cost half the price of typical air flights and will use more eco-friendly fuel saving techniques, whilst removing a crew completely. A plane crew costs a minimum of $2,700 per flight hour, while a boat captain can cost as much as $220,000 per year. As of now, Natilus has created a 30 foot drone set for testing this summer. Fast Company reports that:

The drones are designed to take off and land in the water. They don’t even have landing gears. The expectation is that after landing, they would taxi into a standard port, where cargo would be unloaded using cranes.


Natilus hopes to build hundreds of the drones, some of which will be sold directly to customers—ideally to companies like UPS and FedEx as well as “medium freight forwarders” like Whole Foods and Costco.

The time-saving and cost-efficient Natilus has numbers that speak for themselves. According to NBC:

Shipping 200,000 pounds of freight from Los Angles to Shanghai via drone, for example, would take about 30 hours at a cost of about $130,000, the company says. Delivery of the same cargo by a Boeing 747 takes about 11 hours and costs about $260,000. (Moving the same cargo to Shanghai by ship would cost about $61,000 but would take three weeks.)

It’s still too early to know if Natilus, can successfully develop these unmanned aircrafts. High achievements in business come from the creation of better and new means of reaching an objective. In this case, drone transportation is simply adding another platform to the cargo shipment industry. Ultimately, planes may not get any cheaper, and boats may not get any faster in the foreseeable future. If you’re having a déjà vu, it’s because Navigate the Future has already introduced the The Future of Air Cargo Transport. Dassault Systèmes longtime partner, Worldwide Aeros Corp, has used our Engineered to Fly industry solution experience to create a 770-foot-long Aeroscraft cargo airship with a similar concept to Natilus’. We support the creation of more advanced routes towards innovating better shipping systems, and look forward to seeing upcoming success in this sector.


Rebecca Shpektor

Rebecca is currently a senior at Boston University majoring in public relations and mass communications. She loves creative writing, binge watching episodes of Black Mirror while cuddling with her Pomsky puppy, and eating sushi in excessive amounts. One day, she hopes to explore every country.