DHL, one of the pioneers in drone delivery services, has started testing out its fully automated parcelcopter skyport in Germany's Reit im Winkl community.

A total of 130 autonomous loading and off-loading cycles were completed during the trial period. This marks the first time worldwide that a parcel service provider has directly integrated a parcelcopter logistically into its delivery chain.

parcelcopter 01 Figure 1: Autonomous cross-country flights implemented under challenging alpine conditions were successfully completed during the testing period marking the start of what may be the future of logistics.

The testers were asked to simply place their shipments into the skyport to initiate automated shipment and delivery. The parcelcopter would then transport the goods under real conditions to remote or geographically challenging areas.

The parcelcopter dealt with heavy loads, long distances, and delivery to an alpine region conquering geographical and meteorological challenges.

The DHL parcelcopter was able to fly at 1,200 metres above sea level, and cover eight kilometres of flights carrying either sporting goods or urgently needed medicines. Each time, it arrived within eight minutes of take-off while for a car the same trip takes more than 30 minutes during winter, according to DHL.

parcelcopter 02 Figure 2: Copter-based last mile deliveries integrated for the first time using fully automated loading and offloading at specially developed 'packstations.'

The last step will be a field trial in urban areas. However, the nature of further testing, location, or estimated dates when DHL might effectively incorporate the parcelcopter into its delivery fleet seem to be unclear to the company at the time of writing.

"We will evaluate the data collected during our latest pilot in Bavaria, and then decide on further steps or projects," Robert Mintz, senior manager of communications for DHL told EBN in an email statement.

To evaluate the benefits of the technology for a logistics company in terms of return on investment (ROI) the cost for maintenance of the parcelcopter should be considered in the equation. This information was not disclosed by the DHL spokesperson. It may be that the technology needs more stages of development to be properly assessed.

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Since the future of the parcelcopter testing seems uncertain, we can only assume it will take some time until the prototype is fully evaluated effectively in rural conditions. As for now, the massive adoption of the parcelcopter doesn't seem to have a place in the immediate future of logistics. For now, we can only speculate about the benefits that this technology might bring.

"The parcelcopter technology can be used to create added value, especially in cases involving the transport of urgently needed medicines and deliveries to regions with poor infrastructure, or which are geographically hard to reach. We also see that with the right technology and preparation, potential risks to people, animals, and the environment can be ruled out," said Mintz.

The DHL parcelcopter counts certifications for secure flight operation from the Bavarian State Ministry of Transportation, the Aviation Authority for the Region of Upper Bavaria, the Federal Ministry for Transportation and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI), and the German Air Traffic Control Service (DFS).

The concept and potential use of the parcelcopter in the future of logistics is out there for further exploration. As drone technology gets more popular, we might see autonomous delivery by parcelcopters one day. By then, the future of global logistics might look like this: