Elroy Air is developing autonomous cargo drones meant for heavy loads. Its Chaparral eVTOL was awarded Gold in the Transportation category of the International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA), a prize previously won by the BMW i3 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. These awards are awarded by the Industrial Designers Society of America each September to recognize innovative designs with world-changing potential.
The Chaparral hybrid electric VTOL can carry 250-500lbs (100-225kg) over a distance of 300mi (500km). Six electric motors allow the aircraft to take-off and land vertically. Forward thrust is provided by a combustion engine driving a pusher propeller. A generator recharges the batteries during the cruise phase.
Elroy Air calls the aircraft part flying machine and part warehouse robot, comparing it to Amazon’s robots that automate warehouse operations. It navigates on the ground itself to pick up and drop off cargo using a combination of GPS and radio sensing of a beacon on the cargo container. It can fly point-to-point trajectories fully autonomously
The 20-person team calls out a few technologies that they see as crucial in making the Chaparral a success. The first is the electric powertrain and the fast development in light-weight motors, motor control circuits and battery systems, leading to quieter and cleaner flight with takeoffs and landings anywhere. Second they acknowledge machine perception using LiDAR and Radar and autonomy software to allow their aircraft to fly and navigate without collisions and handle package drop-off autonomously. Lastly there is digital design and validation tools, which allowed their small team to design, validate and iterate a complex machine using off-the-shelf and in-house tools, from an idea to their first full-scale test flight in the Fall of 2019.
In January 2020, they announced a partnership with EmbraerX, Embraer’s disruptive technology subsidiary, to collaborate on commercializing the air cargo market.
Elroy Air aims to open a new chapter for the logistics market with point-to-point autonomous aerial cargo systems. Elroy Air’s Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) cargo delivery aircraft, the Chaparral, will operate without airports or charging stations, and is optimized for freight with automated cargo loading and unloading. Our collaboration with EmbraerX will accelerate our path to deployment in commercial freight markets.
– Dave Merrill, CEO of Elroy Air