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FedEx to Test Autonomous Drone Deliveries in 2023 with San Francisco-based eVTOL Startup Elroy Air

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【Summary】FedEx Express, a subsidiary of the world’s largest express shipping company FedEx Corp, is teaming up with San Francisco-based aviation startup Elroy Air to build the first autonomous vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aerial cargo system. The first version of the eVTOL aircraft will be able to transport 300 to 500 lbs. of cargo a range of up to 300 miles.

FutureCar Staff    Mar 30, 2022 3:00 PM PT
FedEx to Test Autonomous Drone Deliveries in 2023 with San Francisco-based eVTOL Startup Elroy Air

FedEx Express, a subsidiary of the world's largest express shipping company FedEx Corp, is teaming up with San Francisco-based aviation startup Elroy Air to build the first autonomous vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aerial cargo system. It's the first of its kind agreement in the world.

The plans include FedEx Express testing Elroy Air's Chaparral C1 autonomous air cargo system within the company's middle-mile logistics operations, moving shipments by air between sortation locations. 

These types of autonomous cargo drones are known as electric vertical take-off-and-landing ("eVTOL") aircraft

Elroy Air announced its Chaparral C1 autonomous aircraft in January. The first version of the aircraft will be able to transport 300–500lbs of cargo a range of up to 300 miles. 

The Chaparral features a hybrid-electric powertrain and simple forward-flight motors. The aircraft takes off and hovers using eight vertical fans. For forward flight, four of the propellers pivot vertically for propulsion.

The Chaparral eVTOL cargo drone was designed by the Elroy Air team in San Francisco, CA, for fully-autonomous flight and ground operations. It can also be remotely-piloted to comply with civil aviation authorities and airspace integration policies.

The Chaparral can land, deposit cargo, pick up another load, and take-off again, all in just a few minutes and without any human oversight. It's designed to carry cargo in lightweight, aerodynamic cargo pods which are pre-loaded by FedEx ground personnel. The pods are picked up autonomously by the aircraft before takeoff. 

61f02bdc38aaa86b8587c736_ElroyAirChaparral_7.jpeg

The cargo pod in the foreground is loaded on the ground by FedEx personnel before being picked up by the Chaparral eVTOL cargo drone.

FedEx describes the movement of goods through the air as a "conveyor belt through the sky for high-throughput express shipping".

Elroy says the Chaparral creates a "fast-lane" for middle-mile logistics to a wide range of locations, making aerial transport of priority shipments possible for FedEx without using airports. The Chaparral can deliver directly to loading docks at a speed 5 times faster than trucks, the company claims.

"We are proud to work with FedEx to build the next generation of express logistics," said Kofi Asante, Elroy Air's VP of Business Development and Strategy. "When you're not limited by challenging infrastructure, traffic, or airports, logistics can reach more people, faster than ever before. We look forward to working together to create a new future for how we get goods to people around the world."

The rising growth of e-commerce has increased demand for reliable and efficient logistics solutions throughout the supply chain. FedEx believes that innovative projects like this one will help to improve safety, efficiency, and productivity for the company's 600,000 team members.

"FedEx was built on innovation and we are always looking toward new technologies to help enhance the logistics industry through improved safety, efficiency and customer service," said Joe Stephens, senior vice president, global planning, engineering and technology, FedEx Express. "We look forward to continued testing and learning throughout our collaboration with Elroy Air."

FedEx and Elroy Air have been working together since January 2020 and will continue their collaboration to pursue certifications and begin flight testing in 2023.

Elroy's Chaparral has other uses besides logistics. The eVTOL aircraft enables safe, efficient aerial cargo transport for disaster relief, firefighting or humanitarian operations with no risk to pilots or and reliance on airport infrastructure. 

Elroy Air is also working with industry partners besides FedEx on eVTOL aerial logistics projects, including for NASA, Lockheed Martin, EmbraerX and the U.S. Air Force.


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