Big news in the drone-delivery world: DHL Parcel of Germany is launching a pilot project of shipping goods with what it calls a ‘parcelcopter,’ a GPS-equipped quadcopter weighing around 5 kg (11 lbs).
Medications and other urgently needed items will be delivered to the North Sea island of Juist at certain times of the day and on weekends – focusing on times when such alternatives as ferries and manned flights are not available.
This research project, first introduced in December 2013, 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 says. This phase of the project will test and evaluate the possibilities of such delivery methods.
The flight to Juist is roughly 12 km (7.5 miles) from the harbor in Norddeich and will be completely automated. However, DHL says, for safety reasons and in compliance with requirements, the aircraft will be constantly monitored during the flight by a mobile ground station in Norddeich so that manual action can be immediately taken in real time if a malfunction or emergency occurs.
At an altitude of 50 meters, the parcelcopter can travel up to 18 meters per second, depending on wind speed, and will land at a launch pad and landing field reserved specifically for it. From there, a DHL courier will then deliver the goods to the recipient. To optimally secure the goods during transport, DHL Parcel developed a special air-transport container. The aircraft has a flight time of 45 minutes and is waterproof and weatherproof.
Working with its two research and development partners – the Institute of Flight System Dynamics at RWTH Aachen University and Microdrones GmbH – DHL Parcel has completed a comprehensive consultation and approval process led by Lower Saxony's Ministry for Economics, Labor and Transport.
In coordination with DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH, the German Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure has established a restricted flight area exclusively for this project. In addition to the island of Juist and the city of Norden, the Wattenmeer national park administrative unit approved the flights.
Since its maiden flight last December, the parcelcopter has been modified to perform this specific type of mission, DHL explains. The research team optimized aspects such as flight duration, flight range and speed to address the special challenges posed by the wind and marine-weather conditions of the North Sea.
Currently, DHL says, it has no specific plans to use the DHL parcelcopter in normal parcel delivery operations.