Florida's Aergility has spent the last few years developing and testing a new kind of vertical take-off and landing aircraft (VTOL) called the ATLIS. The wingless autonomous delivery drone is being designed to fly at 100 mph (161 km/h) for hundreds of miles on a single tank of gas, making use of a proprietary lift and control system called managed autorotation.

The ATLIS VTOL features an array of eight electric rotors to provide lift and control, and a gas-powered prop at the rear for forward momentum. While in the air, this "very unconventional gyrocopter" makes use of something Aergility is calling managed autorotation.

Company founder and CEO Jim Vander Mey told General Aviation News that the patent-pending system uses a flight controller to manage the revs of the rotors. Lift is achieved by powering up all of the rotors at the same time, while firing up select rotors and simultaneously slowing down others helps with turning. Regen braking is used to recoup energy expended during take-off and landing, meaning that "there is no net electrical energy consumed over the course of the flight."

The UAV will be made from carbon fiber – for the housing, struts and rotor arms. Design renderings show the rotor arm assembly folding for transport and a payload that would be loaded onto a platform under the aircraft, which is then hoisted inside the fuselage. Initial development is focusing on long range cargo transport, but the ATLIS template can be scaled to meet the demands of such varied use scenarios as aerial survey, disaster relief and crop spraying.

After clocking up thousands of hours in computer simulation, the Aergility design team and Watts Innovations have built a quarter-scale prototype from carbon fiber and aluminum and started flight tests. The project now plans to move up to a full scale prototype, which is expected to take about another year to build.

You can find out more about the project and see the current prototype in action in the video below.

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