The German delivery company DHL are set to be the first European firm to use drone technology for parcel delivery.
DHL plan to use small parcel-carrying drones to distribute essential supplies, like medicine and emergency equipment to the remote island of Juist in Germany’s North Sea.
The small size and difficult location of Juist Island has meant traditional delivery options like planes and ferries aren’t always available around the clock to distribute post.
The flight route to the island of Juist is roughly 12 kilometres from mainland Germany and is expected to take around 30 minutes. For the first time in European history, the drone’s flight will be completely automated. Although for safety reasons and in compliance to air traffic control, the newly dubbed ‘Parcelcopter’ will be monitored during the flight to make sure it doesn’t stray off-course.
After the hype around drone deliveries last Christmas by Amazon, the launch and use of drone technology has stumbled and slowed. Whether this has been due to logistics, mechanical failure or simply security concerns, we’re still not seeing even a few drones delivering out mail.
The main developers of the technology, Amazon and Google, are currently still running tests in Canada and Australia respectively; however, concerns over safety and efficiency have again been raised.
DHL, on the other hand, plan to run the Parcelcopter in a month-long trial to gauge it effectiveness on trips to the little outpost.
Unlike both Amazon and Google who want to roll drone technology out to the masses, DHL are deliberately starting small believing that drone technology, for the moment, may only be suitable for special situations over short distances.
For the time being, postal workers, vehicles and couriers are still far more cost effective in built-up areas.
Hurdles and Problems
Large scale drone deliveries are currently being held back by a number of factors.
Although we have, in the drones themselves, the hardware to successfully deliver parcels, the infrastructure around flying and receiving said deliveries is still being heavily scrutinized.
The recent story of a New Jersey man that shot down his neighbour’s drone with a shotgun could be the beginning of a gold rush of people ‘bagging a drone’.
In the US and Canada, air space regulations have dogged development of Amazon’s drones. The technology is still technically illegal as the FAA has yet to establish safety guidelines.
There is also the most obvious security concern of people simply stealing drones and parcels.
Luckily for DHL, security is a lesser issue. The Island of Juist is rather remote with a very small population, so aside from a few rogue sheep, the security of a drone parcel would be of little concern. The ideal setting to test your fledgling drone delivery service.
It’s highly likely that the first users to benefit from drone deliveries will be businesses and large geographically-isolated companies.
Think of a mining company in the Australian outback. It’s probably too far for a single van to drive out to some random rocky outpost; however, a drone could easily be programmed to take a simple route and land with little risk.
The company could alert the drone to any potential hazards along the way, like water or pylons, and the parcelcopter would be relatively hassle-free.
Unfortunately for the rest us, this means drone deliveries to our inner-city terrace houses might be some time away.