FedEx Inks A Drone Deal To Speed Your Deliveries Through The Sky

If you've seen dystopian-futuristic films like "Ready Player One," "Blade Runner 2049," or even the acclaimed space opera TV series "The Expanse," you probably know what the proliferation of autonomous delivery drones is supposed to look like — tons of shipments and deliveries of all sizes flown right to customers' doors rather than being dropped off by a living person. But, like most things that start as science fiction, autonomous delivery drones won't stay fiction for much longer.

Flying autonomous drones in real life have already achieved the capability of carrying heavy loads across long distances, which, despite what the films might say, bodes well for real-world logistics and operations staff working on cargo transportation. On March 30, FedEx announced plans to team up with San Francisco-based Elroy Air to begin commissioning autonomous delivery drones of its own, but these drones are a bit larger than you're imagining. Called VTOLs, or vertical take-off and landing drones, the Elroy Air Chaparral C1 drones commissioned by FedEx are the size of a small plane and are equipped to carry up to 500 pounds of cargo for up to 300 miles in any direction.

The Elroy Air Chaparral C1 can simplify transport logistics

As the global pandemic has continued to surge throughout the United States and across the world since its onset in 2020, supply chains have suffered everywhere, causing the transportation of goods to slow and costs to rise sharply. A massive part of this supply chain and logistics equation takes place somewhere in-between the customer and the retailer. Generally, goods are shipped by sea, then carried between land-based facilities via ground transport. What FedEx is trying to do with the Elroy Air Chaparral C1, is cut down some of the transport time between locations, especially if processing a shipment takes longer because a certain important shipping canal has been shut down.

The Elroy Air Chaparral C1 uses a hybrid-electric powertrain, theoretically making several C1s capable of much better fuel efficiency than a single truck or a large transport plane. It's not compact enough to deliver directly to anyone's door, but it does have a unique pod-based transport system that makes it easy and efficient to process shipments between sorting locations, where specialized teams will be ready to receive and maintain Chaparral C1s between flights. FedEx plans to begin flight-testing its autonomous drones in 2023.