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DHL drones are first to deliver

May 9, 2016

The German shipping firm's drones have carried over 100 parcels with full autonomy through rural and sometimes difficult terrain. The tests have emboldened DHL to set its sights on the arrival of urban drone deliveries.

Paketkopter in Reit im Winkel DHL
Image: DHL/Andreas Heddergott

Deutsche Post DHL, Germany's market leader in shipping and logistics, said that its trial drone program delivered over 130 packages within the Bavarian town of Reit im Winkl between January and March this year.

This makes DHL the first company worldwide to utilize drone technology to deliver parcels to customers, according to a press statement DHL released Monday.

During the three month trial, residents were invited to drop off shipments in "packstations" - centers of parcel lockers run by the company for drones to carry off to another packstation, all without human aid.

The Bonn-based company has dubbed its fleet of drones "parcelcopters," which it first began testing in 2013. It aims to integrate them into its logistics chain to complete the "last mile" of deliveries.

Rising to the challenge

DHL added that its drones successfully carried out "a series of flawless flights" under difficult conditions, which included heavy loads, long distances and challenging alpine geography.

Round-trips up onto a plateau near the village tallied eight kilometers (five miles) and delivered mostly sporting goods and medicine within eight minutes.

"We have achieved a level of technical and procedural maturity to eventually allow for field trials in urban areas as well," said Jürgen Gerdes, DHL's board member for e-commerce parcel delivery. The company has been developing the technology with a university in the western German city of Aachen.

A DHL 'parcelcopter' hovers above a 'packstation'
A DHL 'parcelcopter' hovers above a 'packstation'Image: DHL/Andreas Heddergott

Online retail giants such as China-based Alibaba and US-based Amazon have been working on drone delivery systems of their own. Both companies have, however, faced government regulations inhibiting the testing of their technology.

For its part, DHL thanked local and German governmental authorities for their cooperation in the trial, which enjoyed a protected flight zone for the company's drones.

Delivery drone test

jtm/uhe (dpa, DHL)