Boeing NeXt brings together the aerospace giant’s research investments to develop new markets such as on-demand cargo drones, urban air taxis and even hypersonic airliners

Boeing is setting up an organization, Boeing NeXt, to leverage its research into autonomous flight and advanced propulsion and explore new transportation markets. “Technological advances and societal trends are converging to demand bold solutions and a different way to travel,” says Greg Hyslop, chief technology officer.

As part of the initiative, the aerospace is collaborating with artificial-intelligence technology developer SparkCognition on unmanned air traffic management (UTM). Boeing is already an investor in the Austin, Texas-based startup through its HorizonX Ventures arm.

“Boeing has the experience and expertise to safely and efficiently shape this emerging world of travel and transport,” Hyslop said. “Through Boeing NeXt, we intend to build on our legacy of opening up new frontiers to move people and goods with proven technologies.”

Steve Nordlund, vice president of HorizonX, will lead Boeing NeXt. HorizonX, formed in April 2017 includes identifying potential disruptions to Boeing’s core businesses and finding new external markets for Boeing technologies, as well as the Ventures arm, which has so far made investments in 16 startups.

Boeing NeXt’s portfolio will range from electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) vehicles for on-demand cargo transport and urban air taxis to the hypersonic airliner concept it recently revealed.

“We are shaping the physical and connectivity infrastructure to ensure new air vehicles safely operate in the global airspace,” says Nordlund. Boeing NeXt’s activity will include “modeling smart cities and exploring new market opportunities to solve for the transportation challenges of the future,” it says.

Boeing’s venture-capital investments include startups such as hybrid-electric regional airliner developer Zunum Aero, air-breathing rocket designer Reaction Engines, battery developer Cuberg and autonomous-vehicle sensor specialists Fortem Technologies and Near Earth Autonomy.

Boeing also acquired Aurora Flight Sciences, a leader in autonomous systems and electric propulsion, in 2017. Aurora is partnered with Uber to develop a prototype eVTOL for demonstration flights in 2020. HorizonX, meanwhile, is developing a short-haul unmanned cargo aircraft, having flown a rapidly developed prototype in January.

HorizonX Ventures has also invested in Kittyhawk, which provides the software infrastructure for enterprise drone operations and which is already working with Boeing’s Jeppesen flight information subsidiary on automated approvals for airspace access. Another investment is Matternet, which is developing a drone delivery service, initially for intra-hospital transport of urgent medical samples.