Building the Adjacent Possible: Autonomous VTOL for Middle-Mile Logistics

by David Merrill, CEO, Elroy Air

There’s an idea called the adjacent possible — the concept that at any moment in time there is a unique frontier of inventions that are now enabled by the current state of everything else. Early powered flight needed an engine that could deliver enough thrust, and that was light enough to be carried aloft — it was a critical enabling technology that made flight an adjacent possible.

Logistics robots needed package tracking and a networked awareness of the state of an entire warehouse. Today, autonomous VTOL aerial systems for middle-mile logistics have become the adjacent-possible, enabled by advances in electric powertrain, machine perception and software, and digital design and validation tools.

In this talk I will use Elroy Air’s Chaparral program — autonomous, hybrid-electric VTOL platform designed specifically for logistics — as a datapoint to explore the new opportunities opening up for accelerating middle-mile logistics.


Dave Merrill is the co-founder and CEO of Elroy Air, a company dedicated to expanding the reach of express logistics with advanced, safe vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) cargo aircraft systems. Dave is a technology executive and startup founder with a background in computer science and robotic, interactive systems. Alumnus of MIT (Ph.D.) and Stanford Computer Science / Symbolic Systems (BS, MS), and TED speaker. His work and companies have been featured by the Discovery Channel, Popular Science, Wired, TechCrunch, the New York Times, Forbes and Aviation Week.

Elroy Air is developing autonomous aircraft systems and software to expand the reach of express shipping to 1Bn people worldwide and upgrade defense logistics. The Chaparral is an autonomous vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) aircraft that delivers cargo rapidly and flexibly by air. Building on the powertrain and perception technology enabling the hybrid-electric/autonomous vehicle revolution, it operates outside of airport infrastructure and carries 300 lbs over 300 miles – delivering commercial cargo by air to expand B2B express delivery options, immediate aid and relief in disaster and fire-fighting situations, and rapid autonomous resupply for troops in the field.

The ONLINE Unmanned Cargo Aircraft Conference aims to bring together manufacturers, operators, knowledge institutes, consultants, shippers and governmental organizations active in the upcoming field of unmanned cargo aircraft.

Focus topics of the conference are:

  • UCA business models: how to earn money with UCA?
  • UCA configurations:
    • Large / medium size
    • Last mile delivery
    • Urban space delivery
    • Medical supply drones
  • Regulatory / Legal issues
  • What can UCA contribute to economic and social development?
  • Market analysis
  • Air Traffic Management (ATM) / UAS Traffic Management (UTM)
  • Integration of systems / technologies required for UCA to operate

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