Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Bell’s known for helicopters, but now comes this handy little flying machine



FORT WORTH

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 on Monday showed off one called APT — short for Automatic Pod Transport — that could potentially be employed by the military or retailers like Amazon.

“We think the opportunity for a vehicle like this is now,” said Scott Drennan, Bell’s director of innovation. “...We’re ready to address customers’ needs today.”

Bell’s drone is a “modular, scalable vehicle” that can be adapted to meet a customer’s needs, Drennan said. Depending on the model, it can be small enough to handle loads up to 15 pounds, but large enough to transport 1,000 pounds.

Bell says it can fly farther and faster than many of its competitors.

“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.”

There’s been plenty of stories about Amazon’s efforts to develop drone technology that can drop off a package at your house.

And while that makes for great conversation, Drennan said there are still plenty of challenges before a drone can safely drop off a package at a resident’s home. Clearing up numerous regulatory and safety issues will take time, Drennan said.

Such issues 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 non-standard,” Drennan said. “But you can imagine a vehicle like (APT) this doing that? Ten to 15 pounds of payload. All electric. 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 will likely come from the military, where there aren’t as many regulatory obstacles to be sorted out.

Bell officials laid out a scenario where 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 re-supply through some autonomous vehicles but we believe we’re going to bring some new ways of doing it, more quicker ways of doing it.”

Last year, Bell took another step in drone technology, introducing the V-247 “Vigilant” Tiltrotor for the Marine Corps.

Story and photo ➤ http://www.star-telegram.com

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