FedEx explores aerial shipments using Elroy Air's heavy-lift cargo drone
Back in January, Elroy Air showed off a pre-production version of an autonomous cargo drone capable of carrying 500-lb (227-kg) loads over 300 miles (482 km), and we've now learned FedEx plans to soon put these capabilities to the test. It has teamed up with the San Francisco-based startup to begin trials designed to demonstrate pilot-free aerial shipments between its sorting centers, with test flights to begin next year.
Like other big-name logistics companies such as DHL, FedEx has been exploring the potential of robotics to streamline its operations heading into the future, and now it is turning its eyes to the sky. It says its collaboration with Elroy Air actually stretches back to 2020, and now it is outlining plans to use that company's cargo drone as part of its middle-mile logistics operations.
Elroy Air's Chaparral aircraft carries its contents in a canoe-shaped container fixed to its belly, and uses an electric-gas hybrid powertrain to achieve its impressive range. It is designed to pick up and drop off these tubs autonomously, and FedEx plans to use the vehicle to move goods between its sorting locations to handle an important link in the supply chain.
“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 FedEx's Joe Stephens. "We look forward to continued testing and learning throughout our collaboration with Elroy Air.”
While the timeline for the flight testing remains rather vague, FedEx says the two will pursue certification and begin flight testing in 2023.