DHL to Launch First Drone Flights

The revolution of package delivery services begins today at the shores of the North Sea in Lower Saxony, Germany. Deutsche Post’s express arm DHL will start their parcelcopter mission there flying medicine and other urgently needed items from the mainland to a pharmacy located at the distant island of Juist 12km away.

The parcelcopter can fly up to 18 m per second  /  source pictures: DHL
The parcelcopter can fly up to 18 m per second / source pictures: DHL

The parcelcopter flights are fully authorized, so they have the official blessing and everything is set for the launch of the project. If the weather plays its part, the first DHL drone will take off this afternoon (26 Sep) in front of many spectators.

This research project represents the first and only time in Europe that a flight by an unmanned aircraft will be operated outside of the pilot's field of vision in a real-life mission. DHL Parcel has moved to the next phase of the parcelcopter research project it launched in December 2013 by taking this step. 

Since its maiden flight last year, the DHL parcelcopter has been modified to perform this specific type of mission. The research team optimized such aspects as flight duration, flight range and speed to address the special challenges posed by the wind and the marine-weather conditions of the North Sea.

"Our DHL parcelcopter 2.0 is already one of the safest and most reliable flight systems in its class that meets the requirements needed to fulfill such a mission," as Juergen Gerdes, CEO of DHL's Post - eCommerce - Parcel Division explains. The manager went on to say: "We are proud that this additional service can create added value for the residents of and visitors to the island of Juist and are pleased with the support we have received from the involved communities and agencies."

The DHL drone and its transport unite have landed.
The DHL drone and its transport unite have landed.

High velocity
To ensure that the DHL parcelcopter operates reliably, flies safely and always lands at the right location, an autopilot with automated takeoff and landing functions was developed. DHL assures that the extensively tested system is robust and reliable. The parcelcopter can travel up to 18 meters per second depending on wind speed at an altitude of 50 meters. It will primarily transport medicine from the mainland to the island of Juist at specific times during the week and on weekends. This delivery option will focus on times when alternatives such as ferries and flights are not available. The parcelcopter will take off from the harbor in Norddeich. It will land at a launch pad and landing field at Juist reserved specifically for the drone. A DHL courier will then deliver the goods to the recipient from there. DHL Parcel developed a special air-transport container that is extremely lightweight as well as weather- and waterproof to optimally secure the goods during transport. 
Innovative mode of transport

"With the DHL parcelcopter, an unmanned aircraft operating outside the controller's field of vision will perform deliveries for the first time in a real-world mission,” emphasized Herr Gerdes. Such an ambitious and trail-blazing project to innovate and enhance the supply chain would not have been possible without political and administrative support of all parties involved, he said. 

The performance of the North Sea drones will be closely monitored and evaluated. They will prove if their operation is technically feasible and economically sensible on a broader scale. If so, the use of DHL parcelcopters for distributing urgently needed goods down to the last mile can become a real option in remote or thinly populated areas and make couriers dispensable. 

Heiner Siegmund

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Comments: 1
  • #1

    Artur (Friday, 26 September 2014 09:18)

    I have hope this kind of drone but on wheels we will see on our roads soon. Because there is plenty of loads to transport but huge lack of drivers