For the first time ever, a regular delivery service will be undertaken by drone, marking the first step towards drone delivery becoming a standard replacement for traditional postal services.
Serving the German island of Juist in Europe’s North Sea, the drone will make several visits each week to drop off urgently required goods, such as medication.
The drone in question is the Parcelcopter 2.0, a creation of logistics giants DHL that the company are developing to augment their existing delivery services. This delivery service will serve as a research project for the company, enabling them to further refine the drone’s design.
After debuting Parcelcopter back in December, DHL has spent a lot of time beefing up its range, speed and durability in readiness for flights across the choppy North Sea.
The drone will be entirely automated throughout 12km route, making the journey the first time in Europe when an unmanned aircraft has operated outside of its controller’s field of vision in a non-testing environment.
The service to Juist will run at key times throughout the week and weekend when traditional routes to the island – ferries and flights – are not scheduled to run.
Given the high costs of transporting essential goods to remote communities, the service could become a blueprint for serving island and other hard-to-access regions.
However, each region will require approval from local authorities; something that DHL had to work hard to achieve with Juist.
In order to get the flight off the ground, the system needed the establishment of a restricted flight area between Juist and the German city of Norden, as well as approval from the city and island authorities and the Wattenmeer national park, which is on the drone’s flight path.
If the service proves successful, Germany is likely to establish a more wide-reaching policy on drone delivery flights, with other countries in Europe set to follow.
However, how long it is before such a service makes its way to the USA, where drone regulations are far stricter, remains to be seen. Changes in US aviation rules to accommodate drones have so far been very minimal, and the country is likely to see intense lobbying from key business groups before any significant movement occurs.
Although completely autonomous during flight, the drone’s journey will be at all times monitored from a mobile ground station in Noorden. This is in part to comply with flight regulations and to maintain contact with air traffic controllers, but also makes practical sense for such a young technology: if anything goes wrong the drone can be immediately switched to manual control and navigated to safety.
The Parcelcopter 2.0 is designed to autonomously take off and land, and a custom landing site has been designed and installed on the island of Juist. Departure from mainland Germany will occur in the harbour of the city of Noorden, keeping the travel time to an absolute minimum.
Given the conditions the drone will be flying over, keeping the cargo safe and dry is extremely important, so the Parcelcopter has been equipped with a weather and waterproof air transport container. This should keep all medications safe and ensure they arrive at their designation undamaged.
“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,” said Jürgen Gerdes, CEO of Deutsche Post DHL’s Post – eCommerce – Parcel Division.
“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.”
Images courtesy of DHL.