German delivery firm DHL is joining Amazon and Google in the unmanned air delivery market, with a drone transport service that brings medicines to remote customers.
DHL, part of Deutsche Post and a rival to U.S. logistics firms FedEx and UPS, will bring medication to customers on the German North Sea island of Juist in a four-to-six week research project that begins Friday, Dunja Kuhlmann, a spokeswoman for the Bonn-based firm said on Thursday.
“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 said in a statement on its website.
Drones, unmanned, flying air robots which can be as small as a tennis ball or as large as a one-man sized aircraft, are widely known as military planes that carry out air strikes, but can also be used to safely manage mass crowd movements during a street parade or, in this case, speed up home delivery of parcels.
In the test, customers will be able to order medicines online. A DHL worker will pick them up and attach them to the drone, which will then fly to a secure landing point on the island. The medicines will then be delivered to the customers home by a DHL courier
Last month, Google unveiled a project called “Project Wing”, which aims to develop a delivery system using self-flying vehicles, while online retailer Amazon last year announced it was testing a service called “Prime Air” to deliver packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using drones.
All three companies have said that more tests are required before drone technology can be widely used. Amazon will be ready to put its service in operation as soon as the U.S. regulators set up rules for unmanned aerial transport, something which Amazon has said it hopes will happen early next year.
DHL’s trial drone, called the “parcelcopter,” will provide information on how a regular drone delivery service could operate and how weather conditions would impact it, Ms. Kuhlmann of DHL said.
“We want to know to which extent it can offer added value, especially in areas which are difficult to reach and when it concerns urgent products, such as medicines,” she said.
In the test, customers will be able to order medicines online. A DHL worker will pick them up and attach them to the drone, which will then fly to a secure landing point on the island. The medicines will then be delivered to the customer’s home by a DHL courier.
DHL first started experimenting with its “parcelcopter” in December last year. It does not have a set timeframe to start using drone delivery as a regular service, nor does it have plans to use it in densely urban areas.
DHL has received regulatory approval to operate a daily service of drone deliveries over a stretch of 12 kilometers over land and sea without active ground control by a pilot, DHL said in a statement on its website. The automated flights, however, would be monitored from a ground station.
If weather conditions are favorable, the first flight will take off on Friday, Ms. Kuhlmann said.
The flying robots have been built by German firm Microdrones, and several German research institutes participate in the project, DHL said.
Gilbert Kreijger is an editor at Handelsblatt Global Edition where he covers companies and markets. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org.