Elroy Air’s autonomous unmanned VTOL cargo aircraft, Chaparrel, has won Gold in the Automotive and Transportation category at this year’s Industrial Design Excellence Awards (IDEA).

Chaparrel was one of only 20 designs to receive a Gold award, from nearly 2,00 entries submitted. Previous entries include Apple’s original iPhone (Gold, 2008), Tesla’s Model S (Gold, 2013) and the Oculus Rift VR gaming headset (Bronze, 2016).

Organised by the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA), the worldwide design competition celebrates the very best in design excellence for design professionals and students. A small group of new products and systems are recognised as the most innovative designs, with the most world-changing potential of the year. 

Commenting on the win on the publishing platform Medium, Elroy said ‘this is a big deal’.

“We’re honoured! Looking back at previous Gold winners in this category you’ll find the BMW i3 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. As a startup with a team of 20, we beat multinational aerospace and automotive companies to win this award.”

Elroy Air is building an autonomous VTOL system that can deliver 300 lbs of cargo over a 300-mile range. It says its mission is to improve the quality of life around the world by expanding the reach of express logistics. Potential system applications include commercial, humanitarian aid and military.

In the blog, it adds that the Chaparrel is one part cutting-edge flying machine and another part modern warehouse – powered by a host of key enabling technologies that have recently matured: Electric Powertrain, Machine Perception and Software, Digital Design and Validation Tools.

“Today’s enabling technologies set the conditions for innovation, but that isn’t the whole story,” it said.

“Also differentiating the Chaparral is our obsession with developing features and operator interactions to meet the customer need — from commercial logistics, to humanitarian aid, disaster relief, and more. In startup vernacular, this is called “customer development.” It’s the hard work of Product and Design, and in Aerospace this work must be in lock-step with Engineering because in the end it needs to fly!

“We have been obsessed with getting the Chaparral’s capabilities and interactions right since the early days of Elroy Air, and its functionality — especially the automated way it navigates on the ground to pick up and drop off cargo reflect hard-won lessons we learned by spending time with our customers and a ton of prototyping and iterating. This work has resulted in a host of inventions built into a vehicle that will create a huge leap forward in logistics.”

In January 2020, Embraer’s disruptive business subsidiary, EmbraerX announced its expansion into the commercial air cargo market via a collaborating agreement with Elroy Air.

A press release detailing the news said the collaboration will allow both companies to accelerate the unmanned air cargo market worldwide, leveraging Embraer’s 50 years of industry experience with Elroy Air’s bold new developments in autonomous aircraft systems.