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Elroy Air unveils robotic Chaparral delivery drone

The company shows off its first preproduction model of an aircraft that can autonomously pick up and deliver up to 500 pounds of cargo.

Elroy Air wants to bring same-day delivery to every person on Earth through a fleet of autonomous aircraft. And last week, the company revealed its first preproduction vehicle to make that promise a reality.

The Chaparral C1 is a vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that Elroy says can carry up to 500 pounds of cargo on a maximum range of 300 miles. But what sets the hybrid-electric Chaparral apart from other delivery drones is its ability to autonomously pick up and drop off cargo pods. Watch the video above to see how the system works.

elroyairchaparral-9

The canoe-shaped cargo pods are equipped with tracking beacons and can be preloaded by ground crews.

Elroy Air

"We did it so that the aircraft could in effect behave as part warehouse robot," CEO David Merrill told CNET at Elroy's South San Francisco headquarters. Merrill says he envisions ground crews preloading the canoe-shaped cargo pods, which are equipped with tracking beacons that allow the Chaparral to find their locations.

"We don't want this aircraft to be waiting around while it gets loaded, waiting around to be unloaded," Merrill said. "We wanted it to just pick up the next cargo container and go."

Elroy is an example of a new generation of companies rethinking aviation using drone technology, computer based navigation and electric power. Elroy Air plans to deliver packages, but many of these companies want to deliver human passengers in air taxis.

Elroy first revealed what a Chaparral might look like during flight in 2019 with a prototype craft. The preproduction aircraft it revealed last week hasn't flown yet, but Elroy says it's working with the US military and Federal Aviation Administration to begin flight testing for the certification process this year.

The company says it's secured agreements for more than 500 Chaparral aircraft across commercial, defense and humanitarian customers.