Boeing Co. BA 0.98% on Thursday said it plans to acquire Aurora Flight Sciences Corp., a maker of aerial drones and pilotless flying systems in a move the company said could pave the way for fleets of small flying taxis.
Virginia-based Aurora is a specialist in autonomous systems that allow military and commercial aircraft to be flown remotely, including technology that automates many functions, and has been working with Uber Technologies Inc. on a new vehicle that would take off and land like a helicopter.
Flying taxi-style concepts have attracted interest and funding from technology and aerospace companies, though face big hurdles including regulations that would allow fleets to operate alongside commercial airliners and other air traffic, as well as batteries to keep them aloft for several hours.
The purchase of Aurora would also expand Boeing’s reach in the new field of electric-powered aircraft.
Boeing’s venture capital arm also this year invested in Zunum Aero, a Washington state-based startup that on Thursday unveiled its plan for an electric-hybrid regional passenger jet.
“These types of technology are helping pilots today and are a steppingstone to pilotless aircraft,” said John Langford, Aurora’s founder and chief executive, in a live-streamed interview.
Greg Hyslop, Boeing’s chief technology officer, said the work on autonomous systems also had potential benefits for a host of other industries looking to leverage the potential of so-called machine learning, where computers improve from experience.
The proposed Aurora deal marks Boeing’s second acquisition in less than a year involving autonomous systems following last December’s purchase of Liquid Robotics Inc., a maker of ships and undersea vehicles, and adds to a portfolio that includes aerial drone maker Insitu.
Terms for the proposed purchase of Aurora weren’t disclosed. The firm has more than 550 staff and will be run as an independent unit in Boeing’s engineering and technology business.
Aurora also produces composite parts for aircraft and other vehicles. Boeing is looking to produce more of its own parts as part of an insourcing strategy to reduce costs and potential disruption in its supply chain.
Boeing has been considering further acquisitions as part of the push to expand sales at its newly formed services arm to $50 billion over the next several years from around $14 billion at present.