The German firm DHL will begin using a fleet of drones to carry medicine to a small German island in the North Sea. The company says this is the first time a pilotless plane has been authorised to deliver goods in Europe, placing it one step ahead of multibillion-dollar tech giants like Amazon and Google, both of which have previously announced plans to test drones for delivery service.
DHL began testing its “parcelcopters” last year, with the first trials taking place outside the company’s office in Germany.
Here’s a video of the first experiment:
But now, the unmanned aircraft has been modified to face the harsh conditions of the North Sea. The company has added a special waterproof compartment that contains the medicine to be delivered to residents of Juist.
During a one-month trial phase, expected to start Friday, a drone will fly to a field on Juist from the nearby coastal town of Norddeich. The roughly seven-mile flight to the island will take about 15 to 30 minutes as the drone hits speeds of up to 40 mph, Reuters said.
No cars are allowed on Juist, so once the drone arrives, bicycle couriers will deliver the medicine to residents of the island.
DHL worked with government agencies to establish restricted areas above the North Sea where only drones can fly, according to The Wall Street Journal. Flights will take place only when other crafts are not flying, and the drones will not be allowed to fly over any houses, either.
Amazon revealed its secret Prime Air drone delivery experiment last year, although it still has a long way to go before it actually starts delivering customer orders with drones.
Google has also announced a drone experiment, originating from the secretive Google X research project. Project Wing has been tested with a series of small deliveries in Australia, although like Amazon, Google has yet to actually put the service to use.
If the test flights are successful, DHL said it could extend the medicine-delivery program until the end of October. It will also look into running more drone delivery routes to remote regions in the future. Unlike Amazon and Google, which have “outlined plans to potentially roll out their drone services across large areas,” DHL will probably “not expand the trial across its global delivery network,” The New York Times said.