On August 14th, a drone weighing 1,215 pounds took off from the tarmac at an air base in Camp Roberts, California. It reached a height of 10 feet, hovered for 64 seconds, and then landed. It was the first successful test flight for Elroy Air, a San Francisco-based startup that aims to put its heavy-lift cargo drones in the air, delivering larger-than-average payloads by 2020.
It’s a modest beginning to what could eventually become a trillion-dollar business, if you believe the analysts who think autonomous drone delivery — in particular, cargo drone delivery — has the potential to disrupt the logistics industry. Elroy is among a handful of startups focused on vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft, but for aerial delivery rather than air taxis and flying cars.
Elroy also stands apart from the collection of companies testing delivery drones. Most drones being tested today are average-sized, lightweight quadcopters designed to drop a single item at nearby a destination. Over the past few months, Amazon announced plans to drop packages at customers’ doors, Alphabet’s Wing got Federal Aviation Administration approval to make deliveries in the US, and UPS said it was testing its own tech by delivering medical supplies to hospitals in Northern Virginia.
Elroy is designing drones that are much larger and can carry more cargo for longer distances. The company is hoping to use its autonomous Chaparral system for medical supply delivery, disaster response, and remote military missions. But the company also sees potential in partnering with FedEx, DHL, or UPS for package deliveries. The first version of the Chaparral will carry 250 pounds of cargo over a 300-mile range, the company says.
Here’s the video from its first test flight: