As the FAA and state and local authorities work to commercialize drone delivery, the industry faces another looming challenge: unit economics.
Even after food delivery services like Uber Eats and DoorDash got big, it took years for those companies to reach profitability. Ultrafast delivery startups, meanwhile, have struggled to even remain in business. Drone delivery presents a similar obstacle: ensuring that each trip turns a profit.
It’s a challenge Los Angeles-based A2Z Drone Delivery is looking to take on with its new flagship long-range delivery drone, the RDSX Pelican. Unveiled this week, Pelican is expected to have a maximum range of nearly 25 miles with an 11-pound payload. For comparison, that’s about double the round-trip range of Alphabet’s Wing, one of the largest drone delivery firms in the world.
The extended range is part of what allows A2Z to reduce operational costs and improve unit economics. It’s achieved via Pelican’s hybrid VTOL airframe, which relies on fixed wings to provide more efficient flight. And crucially, the design has no control surfaces, like ailerons, elevators, or rudders—they’re replaced by a multirotor arrangement that provides stability.
The removal of control surfaces, which traditionally serve as stabilizing mechanisms in aircraft, was strategic. Pelican’s simplified design gets rid of those common points of failure, which allows it to stay in the air longer between maintenance and repairs. It also does away with servo motors, a common feature on other drone models that can be tedious to replace.
That reduction in downtime is the main driver of Pelican’s low operating costs, which amount to around 9.5 cents per pound per mile when the drone is fully loaded.
“Delivery drones are uniquely capable of transporting payloads faster, cheaper, and more sustainably than traditional vehicles or ships,” A2Z wrote in a blog post. “While many last-mile terrestrial or seaborn deliveries are already possible with unmanned aerial vehicles, the unit costs of those deliveries need to continue to fall for the industry to truly scale.”
Another key feature of Pelican is its reconfigurability. The standard model comes with A2Z’s recently introduced Rapid Delivery System 2 (RDS2), a winch and tether system that can be installed on most heavy-lift drones. An “off-the-shelf” solution, RDS2 is compatible with just about any retailer’s packaging so long as the parcel is smaller than 16x12x12 inches.
The system will also feature a patent-pending auto-release mechanism that autonomously releases packages when they touch the ground.
RDS2 is geared for scenarios where the drone cannot land, allowing it to complete deliveries from altitude. But for heavier deliveries, customers can elect for a simple servo-release mechanism that airdrops packages near the ground. That configuration limits Pelican’s range to about 12.4 miles but increases its max payload to around 17.6 pounds.
Customers can also opt for a customized cargo bay with mission-specific features, like digital cameras for aerial mapping. Other use cases for Pelican include residential delivery, logistics support, inspections, search and rescue, sample collection, and more.
All Pelican models are now available for pre-order starting at $29,000 and are FAA Part 107 compliant, with a takeoff weight below 55 pounds. Orders will be fulfilled on a first-come-first-served basis, with initial deliveries slated for next month.
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