Your friendly neighborhood delivery men could soon be a thing of the past as autonomous cargo drones take over delivering your packages. Late in March this year, FedEx Express, a subsidiary of the world’s largest express shipping company FedEx Corp, announced that it would be partnering with aviation startup Elroy Air to develop an autonomous hybrid electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) air cargo system.
Termed the Chappral, the eVTOL cargo drone is expected to have the capacity to transport cargo pods weighing 300-500 pounds over a distance of nearly 300 miles, with full end-to-end autonomous operations at both flight and ground level. This means that the drones can autonomously pick up pre-prepared pods, deliver them to sorting centers, and pick up new loads for delivery in a highly efficient manner with little to no human intervention. FedEx will be trialing the eVTOL for mid-logistics operations.
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Autonomous cargo drones have long been seen as a lynchpin in commercial delivery logistics operations. Autonomous eVTOLs offer streamlined shipments and logistics operations – whether for mid-mile or, over time, last-mile services – since they are not constrained by airport or road infrastructure.
Health and hygiene concerns, coupled with rising labor costs, have strengthened the appeal of contactless deliveries. This has underlined the importance of autonomous delivery technologies. Against this backdrop, public awareness about the advantages of drones has surged, particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic. Successful experiences with drones delivering critical medical supplies and humanitarian assistance have made customers more receptive and confident in their ability to realize delivery fulfillment.
Environmental concerns are also providing a fillip to market development. Sustainability concerns in cities are pushing the case for aerial cargo drones that have a more environmentally-friendly profile than existing land-based transport alternatives.
Meanwhile, as the e-commerce boom continues unabated, autonomous eVTOLs fit the bill for safe, fast, and efficient logistics solutions. Reinforcing this has been the growing consumer demand for same and next-day deliveries, particularly in the food and grocery segment. Here, drones support faster delivery times and lower shipping costs compared to land-based logistics transport.
“While these are positive signs, we believe that market take-off will falter unless stakeholders can collaborate to design a clear and comprehensive regulatory framework. Cost challenges, in terms of the need for purpose-built infrastructure, will also need to be addressed. And finally, as we have seen repeatedly in the case of any new technology, there is the question of consumer support. To build consumer confidence, successful public demonstrations of drone deliveries will be imperative,” says Geraldine Priya, Research Manager, Mobility Practice at Frost & Sullivan.
Ultimately, what we believe will underscore the case for autonomous eVTOLs in middle and, prospectively, last-mile logistics operations, is their flexibility. Their capabilities over a wide range of aerial cargo transport applications spanning humanitarian to defense, food & grocery to postal & parcel, e-commerce to medical emergency assistance will highlight their appeal.
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