Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

DHL brings drone delivery to China

Steve Rogerson
May 21, 2019

DHL Express is partnering Chinese intelligent autonomous aerial vehicle company EHang to launch a fully automated and intelligent smart drone delivery service in the urban areas of China.
The launch ceremony was held last week at the EHang command and control centre in Guangzhou. The drone took its inaugural flight for a DHL customer, making DHL the first international express company to provide such a service in China.
"We are delighted to be partnering with EHang to set a new innovation milestone with this new fully-automated and intelligent drone logistics, which combines the strength of the world's largest international express company together with one of the leading UAV companies in the world," said Wu Dongming, CEO for DHL Express in China. "This is an exciting time for the logistics sector, with continued growth of the Chinese economy and cross-border trade, particularly in south China and the Greater Bay Area, which is home to an increasing number of SMEs and start-ups. This means there is a tremendous volume of logistics needs, which in turn creates new opportunities for implementing innovations that can continuously drive growth with greater efficiency, sustainability and less cost."
The customised route, which has been exclusively created for a DHL customer, covers a distance of approximately 8km between the customer premises and the DHL service centre in Liaobu, Dongguan, Guangdong Province. Using a UAV in EHang's recently launched Falcon series, featuring a high level of intelligence, automation, safety and reliability, the intelligent drone delivery overcomes the complex road conditions and traffic congestion common to urban areas.
It reduces one-way delivery time from 40 minutes to only eight minutes and can save costs of up to 80% per delivery, with reduced energy consumption and carbon footprint compared with road transportation.
"Together with DHL we are very glad to bring the first smart drone delivery service route to China in Guangzhou,” said Hu Huazhi, founder and CEO of EHang. “This marks a new beginning in building air logistics for smart cities. Riding on today's launch, we expect smart drone delivery as an innovative logistics solution to be expanded and realised in more areas, and we look forward to working with DHL in building the ecosystem for a multi-dimensional urban air transport system."
The Falcon smart drone, with eight propellers on four arms, is designed with multiple redundant systems for full backup, and smart and secure flight control modules. Its features include vertical take-off and landing, high accuracy GPS and visual identification, smart flight path planning, fully automated flight, and real-time network connection and scheduling.
Fully automated and intelligent, the drones, which can carry up to 5kg of cargo per flight, take off and land atop intelligent cabinets that were developed for the fully autonomous loading and offloading of the shipment. The intelligent cabinets seamlessly connect with automated processes including sorting, scanning and storage of express mail, and will feature high-tech functions such as facial recognition and ID scanning.
This smart drone delivery should enhance DHL's delivery capabilities and create a customer experience in the logistics sector that opens up more opportunities for sustainable growth and greater economic contribution. Given the growing prominence of B2C business operations and delivery in China, employing drones in express delivery services offers an innovation for meeting the increasing demands for time-sensitive delivery, particularly for last kilometre delivery in urban areas.
Building on the launch, DHL says it will continue to identify routes that can be developed for clients in need of tailored customer services and logistics and will work closely with EHang to create a second generation of drones in the near future that will improve capacity and range in drone-operated express delivery.