Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

DHL conducts three-month trial of drone deliveries in Bavaria

Steve Rogerson
May 17, 2016

DHL Parcel has concluded a three-month test of its third parcelcopter generation of drones. The trial run, part of a larger research and innovation project, was conducted between January and March 2016 in the Bavarian community of Reit im Winkl.
The German logistics company claims this is the first time worldwide that a parcel service provider has directly integrated a Parcelcopter logistically into its delivery chain.
Private customers in Reit im Winkl and on the Winklmoosalm plateau were invited to test out the specially developed Packstations, dubbed the Parcelcopter Skyport. During the three-month trial, they could simply insert their shipments into the Skyport to initiate automated shipment and delivery per Parcelcopter. A total of 130 autonomous loading and offloading cycles were performed.
As part of the trial, the technically upgraded vehicle was able to deal with heavier loads, longer distances and delivery to an alpine region notable for its geographical and meteorological problems.
The first task was to master the rapidly changing weather conditions and severe temperature fluctuation in the test area. With that achieved, the Parcelcopter then performed a series of flawless flights. Each round trip from valley to plateau at roughly 1.2km above sea level covered 8km of flight. The drone's cargo was typically either sporting goods or urgently needed medicines and it arrived at the Alm station within eight minutes of take-off. The same trip by car takes more than 30 minutes during winter.
"We're the first worldwide who are able to offer a transport drone – Parcelcopter at DHL – for end-customer delivery," said Jürgen Gerdes, management board member at Deutsche Post DHL Group. “With this combination of fully automated loading and unloading as well as an increased transport load and range of our Parcelcopter, we have achieved a level of technical and procedural maturity to eventually allow for field trials in urban areas as well.”
In the coming months DHL Parcel will be analysing performance data and other insights from the trial together with its R&D partner, the Rheinisch-Westfälischen Technischen Hochschule Aachen. The findings will be used to select other potential areas for testing.
The success of the project reflects a partnership with both the community of Reit im Winkl and the relevant civil oversight agencies; the Federal Ministry for Transportation established a restricted flight zone specifically for this research project, and the Aviation Authority for the Region of Upper Bavaria provided the necessary flight clearances. Together with officials from the community of Reit im Winkl, all details were worked out to ensure that the project could operate safely and uninterruptedly at all times.