Looking to push innovation with parcel deliveries and transport, FedEx is trialling a new type of drone delivery.

The international delivery outfit is teaming up with US-based Elroy Air to create the first end-to-end autonomous hybrid-electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aerial cargo system.

Although the name is quite a mouthful, this new drone-based delivery system is aimed at covering the so called “middle mile” deliveries, that is, moving shipments between sorting locations.

FedEx Express, a subsidiary of FedEx Corp, is set to develop plans to test Elroy Air’s Chaparral autonomous air cargo system within the delivery company’s logistics operations.

It’s responding to the exponential growth in online retail, which has driven at an unprecedented rate the demand for transport and logistics options that can keep up.

This year alone, FedEx anticipated that it will see more than 101 million shipments every day across the US.

Although the new autonomous delivery system was only launched two months ago, FedEx is looking to seize the initiative with a forecast of some 100 million ecommerce shipments in the US alone by 2026 and is embracing emerging technologies across its delivery networks.

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 Joe Stephens, senior vice president, global planning, engineering and technology, FedEx Express.

Pushing the limits of drone delivery

FedEx and Elroy Air have been working together since January 2020 and plan to continue the collaboration with a view to achieving certifications and begin flight testing in 2023.

Being an eVTOL aerial cargo system, Elroy Air’s Chaparral aircraft can autonomously pick up 300-500 pounds of cargo and deliver it by air up to 300 miles.

What makes it promising is that the Chaparral is capable of longer-range flights without the need for additional infrastructure, such as airports for take-off and landings or charging stations to keep it powered.

It uses radio frequency beacons to communicate positioning information between the drone and the pickup pod, needing no humans to operate or communicate.

Kofi Asante, Elroy Air’s VP of business development and strategy said, “When you’re not limited by challenging infrastructure, traffic, or airports, logistics can reach more people, faster than ever before. We look forward to working together to create a new future for how we get goods to people around the world.”

The huge surge in online shopping and the need to meet the resultant demand for shorter delivery times has seen FedEx and others eye off new innovations.

Although drone delivery is still in its early days, the likes of Amazon and Google are looking to find widespread workable solutions beyond niche services like coffee deliveries.

Yet despite the promise of fast, easy deliveries, there’s still some way to go before the technological capability finds widespread, commercial applications.