Boeing plans unmanned electric aircraft future

Imagine travelling to Australia on a plane that doesn't require fuel or even a pilot?

Well, Boeing reckons that could be a reality sooner than you'd think.

At its Chicago headquarters Boeing has developed a prototype for an unmanned electric aircraft that can carry heavy cargo and they're looking at ways to carry people too.

These new ways of transport are critical, as growing populations and more cars mean getting from A to B takes longer than ever.

But Boeing has two subsidiaries - HorizonX and NeXt - that are dedicated to changing that.

"We think that people have the option to take transport on the ground, but also have an airborne element," says Boeing HorizonX vice president Logan Jones.

"People around the world value time to a greater degree and that infrastructure requirements are pushing people to think about new ways of transportation."

Boeing NeXt's created a prototype unmanned electric aircraft big enough to carry heavy cargo which will be fully operational within the next five years.

Not only will it change the way goods are transported by significantly reducing delivery times and emissions, the technology is already proving to be a life-saver in the US and Switzerland  where it's being used to deliver urgent blood samples to labs.

"Technology is advancing, making it more realistic that these solutions would be deployed and that people feel comfortable taking them all over the world," Mr Jones says.

So, what about unmanned electric air transport for humans?

Air New Zealand's announced plans to create the world's first electric air taxis and in Norway they're already testing two-seater electric aircraft.

Now Boeing NeXt wants to take that a step further, with passenger planes able to travel regional and perhaps trans-Tasman distances by the mid-2020s.

"I think it really addresses some of the challenges that people have in their daily lives and commutes and it makes it an exciting option for people," Mr Jones says.

Now it's just a race to see who can get the technology off the ground first.