Autonomous cargo drone startup Elroy Air lands $ 40 million Series A – TechCrunch
Elroy Air has raised a $ 40 million Series A, including funding from the venture capital arm of Lockheed Martin, to speed up construction, testing and validation of its first autonomous cargo drone.
The funding round saw participation from Marlinspike Capital and Prosperity7, as well as existing investors Catapult Ventures, DiamondStream Partners, Side X Side Management, Shield Capital Partners and Precursor Ventures. This latest round brings Elroy’s total raised to $ 48 million to date.
The four-and-a-half-year-old company was founded by David Merrill and Clint Cope. “We started the business with this dual idea that the enabling technology was right there, was there to build bigger drones. […] and that there would be a lot of useful things that larger systems can support, ”Merrill said in a recent interview with TechCrunch.
Elroy focuses on building what Kofi Asante, Elroy’s vice president of strategy and business development, called “a dual-use system,” suitable for both the defense industry and the market. commercial. Elroy The flagship autonomous cargo plane, Chaparral, is designed to fly 300 miles, carry 300 to 500 pounds of cargo, and have automated cargo flight and handling capabilities. The idea is to minimize the need for humans not only in the pilot’s seat, but on the ground, to manually load and unload the payload.
Unlike other competitors in space, Chaparral is an electric hybrid, equipped with all-electric thrusters, a generator and a turbojet. The generator is mainly used during take-off and landing, both of which are energy intensive, to increase the power of the rotors.
Its propulsion system is a key differentiator between Elroy Air’s product and companies that build eVTOL air taxis, like Joby Aviation. “What we heard from our customers is that they needed longer routes, longer range missions than today’s battery technology can actually support,” said David Merrill, CEO of Elroy Air. “It became quite clear to us that we needed another power-side power plan on a vehicle.”
Another differentiator from other VTOLs is that Elroy decoupled the loading pod from the drone via the automated cargo handling feature. Using a combination of GPS and sensing technology, the drone can automatically pick up and drop off cargo. The design aims to maximize efficiency and free up humans for packing and setting up cargo pods.
This feature could be particularly useful in defense contexts, as missions such as resupplying soldiers can sometimes present risks to the pilot, crew and handlers.
“More generally, there is this interest in the national security community in making logistics more agile and automated, and this shift from big, expensive planes that you don’t have a lot to to smaller, cheaper planes than you can have more, ”Merrill said.
The company has a handful of next steps to take before it starts flying for defense or commercial clients. On the defense side, Elroy will begin validating flights with the US Air Force and Navy next year. The company has a Phase 3 small business innovation research contract with the Air Force through Agility Prime, part of which performs flight operations with these upcoming systems.
The company would likely be able to start business operations overseas, in places that have different regulatory standards, before going through the full certification process here in the United States with the Federal Aviation Administration. It will need to obtain both a type certificate and a Part 135 certificate before it can start to develop its business at the national level. They remain flexible about the ability to sell Chaparral systems to companies that wish to operate the network themselves and operate Chaparral systems themselves as a full-service freight airline.
“The drone delivery space has grown rapidly with small last mile drones […] and now this new chapter opens for the middle mile [cargo delivery]”Merrill said.” We’re excited that the technology is ready to support this, customers want it, and we’ve assembled a team and raised the funds to make it happen. “