New heavy-lift autogyro grabs attention @AUVSI

New heavy-lift autogyro grabs attention @AUVSI

We had barely got onto the XPONENTIAL trade floor in Orlando before something really caught our attention. Part of the reason was because it was big. But it was also very different.

It’s an entirely new type of VTOL drone that uses an autogyro-type system for lift. The drone is called ATLIS, and it’s billed as a long-range, heavy lift VTOL cargo UAV. It’s built by a Florida company called Aergility, which has previously successfully tested scale models of this design.

“We flew our first 1:4 scale model about four years ago,” says Brian Vander Mey, Aergility’s Director of Sales and Marketing. “Then we built a 30 per cent scale model, and this is the debut of our full-scale model. This is our third generation.”

Take a look at this thing. It’s quite something:

VTOL cargo UAV

The Aergility ATLIS has a claimed range of 300 miles (480 km) with a payload of 500 pounds (227 kg). The company says it’s been designed for dropping critical supplies to disaster areas, hostile environments, and more.

“We want to be in places that have limited, damaged infrastructure or uavailable infrastructure,” says Brian Vander Mey, Aergility’s Director of Sales and Marketing.

“That would be anything from 400,000 villages in Africa, to oil platforms, to military applications where it costs $1,000 per litre to deliver water into the field.”


A VTOL with autogyro


This drone has quite an unusual design. Forward thrust is carried out by a multi-fuel turboprop engine. You can get a closer look at the front end here:

Cargo Drone

The back end, meanwhile, opens up much like a military cargo aircraft. This enables rapid loading and unloading, which is a major factor in a critical situation.

Cargo Drone

Takeoff, transition, autogyro


The ATLIS features a total of seven propellors and motors. The fuel engine is the one you saw previously, and is responsible for thrust in forward flight. In addition, ATLIS has six other motors that function both for vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL), like a quadcopter.

But during the transition to forward flight, the power to those VTOL rotors is gradually decreased to zero. Airflow starts to move those props of its own accord – meaning they begin to auto-rotate simply due to forward motion through air. Once they reach a sufficient speed, they provide lift just like a wing.

But these motors can also be controlled – slowed down on one side or the other (or front to back) by regenerative braking. The power generated during that braking process is transferred to the rotors on the opposite side of the aircraft, increasing their speed. Doing this gives the pilot authority over yaw, pitch and roll.

“So if you want to bank, you add power to rotors on one side by generating and drawing power from rotors on the opposite side,” says Vander Mey. “The net is that zero power has been used.

“The aircraft is remarkably simple. There are no ailerons, it’s just rotors.”

Here’s a better explanation, followed by a shot of one of those combination VTOL/autogyro rotors.


ATLIS Cargo Drone

Getting ready for flight


The ATLIS on display has not yet flown. But it’s not a mockup (something that occasionally plagues trade shows). The carbon fuselage is the real deal, but final integration of components has not yet been done. The company has successfully flown a 1:3 scale version, and will take ATLIS to the air by the end of summer.

“There’s going to be an extensive certification process. The first thing is to get the aircraft in good shape and ready for production,” says Vander Mey. “So we are going to be doing our initial flight testing for this aircraft in late summer, and we’re targeting having production units available 18-24 months from now.”

Cargo Drone

Scale model in flight


As mentioned, Aergility has previously produced scale models of this drone. You’ll see in this video that roll, pitch and yaw have all been achieved despite no airelons. Of course, multi-rotors do this as well – but standard quadcopters continuously supply power to all rotors. The ATLIS does not, once in full forward flight. And when inputs are required, it puts the brakes on some rotors, generating the power required to speed up opposing rotors.

This strikes us as new. Aergility appears to have been successful with its prototype:

InDro’s Take


This unusual design caught our eye. If Aergility can successfully get its full-scale version through certification, it will certainly find a market. The ability to move 500 pounds of cargo 300 miles in a VTOL-style aircraft is very significant, and we can foresee many humanitarian and emergency use-cases, as well as just routine deliveries to remote communities.

We’re also intrigued by the autogyro aspect, and the ability to change autogyro speeds for flight inputs (what Aergility calls “Managed Autorotation Technology” or MAT). ATLIS does not require tilting motors or variable pitch rotors; we’d love to see this sytem in action.

We wish Aergility the best in test flights, certification, and bringing this product to market. A drone like this, if successful, will certainly fill a void.



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Indro Robotics at AUVSI’s XPONENTIAL show

Indro Robotics at AUVSI’s XPONENTIAL show

Welcome to the Greatest Show on Earth, or at least the biggest when it comes to drones and robots.

The Association for Uncrewed Vehicles Systems International (AUVSI) is back with a full-scale, in-person XPONENTIAL show for the first time since the global pandemic. With members in more than 60 countries – and an ever-increasing number of companies offering products – this is considered the event to attend. The trade floor, when it opens April 26, will showcase products from the world’s largest manufacturers…right through to some of the smallest.

Only exhibitors were allowed in today, setting up their displays. You can get a tiny glimpse of the floor in the background in the following shot. And that woman with the yellow tie? She means business. No one on the floor without an exhibitor’s pass. Don’t even ask.


As usual, there were some smaller educational seminars and panels on a day when a lot of people were still registering. To give you a sense of scale, check out how large the registration area is. Given that it takes only about a minute to get your pass, maximum, this is massive.




We took in a few sessions today, just to get warmed up for the main event. A couple of them had some pretty interesting little nuggets.

For example, there was a panel called “When does a vehicle become the driver?” which raised some intriguing points we hadn’t considered. For example, disability activists are keen to have a voice at the table for autonomous vehicles due to the obvious advantages they will provide for those unable to drive a regular car. Wiley Deck, the VP of Government Affairs and Public Policy with the autonomous trucking firm Plus, said he’s heard many with disabilities say “‘We want to be in at the front door, and we think we deserve that’.”

Makes sense. And, arguably, autonomous vehicles might be a boon for elderly people whose decision-making skills and reaction times have diminished with age. But when it comes to legislation, that raises another question.

“Fewer and fewer people will be human drivers,” said Kelly Bartlett, a Connected and Automated Vehicle Specialist with the Michigan Department of Transport (and a guy who thinks about laws a lot).

 “We’ve got to decide, who is that person? Maybe it’s a Level 4 or Level 5 (autonomous vehicle). Who is that person? Do they have to know traffic laws, for example?”

Interesting question, and one Barlett said will have to be tackled by legislators at some point in the future.


Autonomous trucking will take time


One of the other striking things from the panel, considering the capabilities of vehicles like those from Tesla, is that the world of autonomous long-haul trucking isn’t coming anytime soon.

If the route were a simple A-B, things would be easier. But the reality, said panelists, is that most of the millions of trucks hitting the road daily in the US have complex routes. They need to stop for fuel or, in the future, for charging. They need to cross states that have different laws. And, just as there are concerns with drones conflicting with traditional aviation, regulators and the public will need to be satisfied these vehicles are truly safer – and in all scenarios.

For example: What would happen if a front steering tire of an autonomous truck blew out at highway speeds? We don’t actually know yet, though at some point such tests will be carried out on tracks. Think of how many scenarios might be involved – how does an autonomous vehicle react to an oil slick? When being towed?

Lots to think about. Speaking of which, when do you predict autonomous trucks will be ubiquitous? Five years? Ten?

According to the panel, you’d be premature.

“It’s decades away,” said Wiley Deck. “If you’re entering the industry now, you’ll be able to retire as a trucker.”

There was also an amazing story about one of the first autonomous vehicle demonstrations, way back in 1925. Too long to go into here, but there’s a fascinating read here, if you’re inclined. It even involves Houdini.


Blue sUAS


You may have heard of Blue sUAS. It’s a list of drones that have been vetted by a Department of Defense branch called the Defense Innovation Unit to comply with the National Defense Authorization Act in the United States. You might think of them as an “approved” list of non-weaponised drones for use by the military, or those using federal funds. Drones using major components manufactured in China are excluded, including DJI. There are also fairly rigid cybersecurity hurdles the drones must pass.

But that has led to some confusion – and concern among organizations that cannot afford the vetted drones. Shelby Ochs, seen in the next photo, is the Program Manager, Autonomy, with the Defense Innovation Unit. They’re the folks that vetted the first list of Blue sUAS drones. At the moment, that list contains eight drones, listed here.



Problem is, when the Defense Innovation Unit first came out with its initial list of Blue sUAS, many people in government, law enforcement, and – albeit rarely – some commercial companies, believed these were the only drones they could purchase.

“People thought this was a prescriptive list,” says Ochs. “So there were a lot of agencies in the federal government who said: ‘If they’re good enough for the Department of Defense, they’re good enough for us, too.'”

That, in his opinion, was a mistake. And he emphasized the following point multiple times during his presentation. In fact, he said it at least three times:

“Any company can sell any drone to any organization, so long as it meets their administrative requirements.”

So that cleared things up. Also of note, Ochs says the Defense Innovation Unit has been looking at adding more drones to the list – and another 15 US-made drones are currently under consideration. He also predicts that average prices of US-made, Blue sUAS products will come down over time.

That’s it for now. Check in later, as we’ll be posting lots of cool content from XPONENTIAL.