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.