Air & Space Smithsonian - - In The Museum -

Just seven miles from the main­land, the 11-mile-long Ger­man sand­bar is­land Juist can be reached only by air­plane or ferry, mak­ing it a good can­di­date for a drone de­liv­ery trial. From late 2013 through 2014, DHL tested its “parcel­copter” and the fea­si­bil­ity of de­liv­er­ing medicines to the is­land’s 2,000 res­i­dents when the ferry wasn’t able to run—at night and dur­ing foggy con­di­tions.

DHL part­nered with Mi­cro­drones and the In­sti­tute of Flight Sys­tem Dy­nam­ics at RWTH Aachen Univer­sity, ac­cord­ing to a com­pany press re­lease. ( DHL de­clined an in­ter­view, say­ing it was still eval­u­at­ing test flight data.)

The is­lan­ders’ blog en­thu­si­as­ti­cally cov­ered the tri­als: “She gets more at­ten­tion than the Vene­tian wed­ding of Ge­orge Clooney, the preg­nant Kate from Eng­land, or the al­ways lean and preg­nant Heidi Klum—‘our’ drone.”

De­scribed in the blog as a cross be­tween a UFO and a Hum­mel tank (be­cause of the noise), the drone took ap­prox­i­mately 20 min­utes to travel from the pier at Nord­de­ich to Juist. The flight was com­pletely au­to­mated, notes a DHL press re­lease, but was con­stantly mon­i­tored by a mo­bile ground sta­tion in Nord­de­ich in case of mal­func­tion or emer­gency. The md4-1000 drone can travel at 31 mph, re­main in the air for up to 90 min­utes, and carry a lit­tle over two pounds. The drone flies to a land­ing area on Juist, where a courier re­moves the pack­age and de­liv­ers it to the is­land’s phar­macy.

While the blog’s au­thor wist­fully hoped for a daily fast food de­liv­ery (“a pa­per bag with a big yel­low ‘M’ is

an emer­gency”), she

al­most rec­og­nized the po­ten­tial of the drone: “It re­ally is a mat­ter of sav­ing lives.”

“At the mo­ment we have no spe­cific plans for us­ing parcel­copters in nor­mal de­liv­ery op­er­a­tions,” says DHL.

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