DHL launches parcel-copter for faster delivery

September 30, 2014
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DHL Express Kenya Marketing & Communication Manager Ms Lilian Kanyi and Service Point Supervisor, Mr Trevor Otieno present one of their customers Ms Alima Tahir Nasur with a surprise gift at the DHL Express Head office in Witu Road Nairobi/FILE
DHL Express Kenya Marketing & Communication Manager Ms Lilian Kanyi and Service Point Supervisor, Mr Trevor Otieno present one of their customers Ms Alima Tahir Nasur with a surprise gift at the DHL Express Head office in Witu Road Nairobi/FILE
NAIROBI, Kenya, Sept 30 – DHL is set to launch a unique pilot project that will, for the first time worldwide, ensure urgent delivery of medication and other highly time sensitive goods delivered to customers by an unmanned aircraft dubbed the DHL parcel-copter.

The ground breaking project is a first in Europe and represents the only time in the country where a flight by an unmanned aircraft will be operated outside of the pilot’s field of vision in a real-life mission.

By taking this step, DHL moves to the next phase of the parcel-copter research project that was launched in December 2013.

Since its maiden flight last December, the DHL parcel-copter has been modified to perform this specific type of mission.

The research team optimised such aspects as flight duration, flight range and speed to address the special challenges posed by the wind and marine-weather conditions of the North Sea – Juist Island – where the parcel-copter delivers urgently needed goods at certain times of the day.

“Our DHL parcel-copter 2.0 is already one of the safest and most reliable flight systems in its class that meets the requirements needed to fulfil such a mission,” said Jürgen Gerdes, Chief Executive Officer 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,” he added.

The technical innovations of the DHL parcel-copter include extended flight duration and range: The flight route to the island of Juist is roughly 12 kilometres. The flight will be completely automated for the first time. This means that a pilot does not have to take any action at all during any phase of the flight.

For safety reasons and in compliance with the requirements set by the responsible agencies, the DHL parcel-copter 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. The ground station will also maintain constant contact with air traffic controllers.

To ensure that the DHL parcel-copter operates reliably, flies safely and always lands at the right location, an autopilot with automated takeoff and landing functions was developed. This system is robust and reliable, and has been extensively tested. At an altitude of 50 meters, the parcel-copter can travel up to 18 meters per second depending on wind speed.

It will primarily transport medications from the mainland to the island of Juist at certain times during the week and on weekends. This delivery option will focus on times when such alternatives as ferries and flights are not available.

The parcel-copter will take off from the harbour in Norddeich. It will land at a launch pad and landing field on the island of Juist reserved specifically for the parcel-copter. 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 that is extremely lightweight as well as weather- and waterproof.

“With the DHL parcel-copter, an unmanned aircraft operating outside the controller’s field of vision will perform deliveries for the first time in a real-world mission. Without the extremely high level of willingness to innovate and to find solutions exhibited by the involved agencies, communities and the Wattenmeer administrative unit of Lower Saxony, such a project would not be possible,” Gerdes emphasised.

Currently, there are no specific plans to use the DHL parcel-copter in normal parcel delivery operations. This phase of the research project will test and evaluate the possibilities of such delivery methods. To the extent that it is technically feasible and economically sensible, the use of parcel-copters to deliver urgently needed goods to thinly populated or remote areas or in emergencies is an interesting option for the future.

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