The drone leaving the Packstation, or "Parcelcopter Skyport" (Credit: DHL)
When you think of delivery by drone of consumer goods, chances are you'll think of Amazon. But it's not the only one working on flying packages to people's front doors via unmanned aerial vehicles. Delivery company DHL is also making steady strides in this arena, first with a drone that could fly blood samples across a river, then with a medication-delivery drone and now with the third generation of its "Parcelcopter," which does in eight minutes what it would take a standard mail-delivery vehicle a half hour to complete.
The latest Parcelcopter was tested this year from January to March, flying packages from the German community of Reit im Winkl to a plateau located about 1,200 meters above sea level. The system was tested out using real members of the community who brought their packages to what DHL calls a "Packstation" or "Parcelcopter Skyport." The special facility is like a small post office with a small helipad on top of it. When a package is inserted, a Parcelcopter swoops into action, grabbing hold of it. Then, the roof of the skyport opens and the drone zips off to deliver the goods to their destination. The entire system works automatically, without human intervention.
In case you've never been to Reit im Winkl before, it apparently has some pretty dramatic and rapidly-changing weather conditions, so the folks at DHL beefed up their Parcelcopter to handle the environmental challenges. Similar Amazon's proposed Prime Air delivery drone, DHL's flyer has the ability to rise vertically like a helicopter and then convert to zip forward like an airplane. It can fly at 70 km/h (about 43 mph) carrying a parcel weighing up to 2.2 kg (4.4 lb) for 8.3 km (just over five miles). That's almost double the speed of its previous Parcelcopter, that topped out at 43 km/h (about 27 mph).
DHL says the trip from base to mountain plateau took only eight minutes and was repeated for 130 deliveries during the testing period. A car making the same journey by road would take 30 minutes.
The next step, the company says, is to analyze the data from its tests and look for other areas where it might be able to build other Packstations to help spread the autonomous delivery system – perhaps even in urban areas as opposed to relatively sparsely populated mountain towns.
While drone delivery is already becoming a bit ho-hum in the news, this video of the Parcelcopter in action might make you rethink just how impressive the system is.