The trial will be the first time in Europe commercial drones will be operated outside the pilot’s field of vision, according to DHL
Deutsche Post DHL is to launch regular drone flights to an island in the North Sea as part of a month-long trial to demonstrate the maturity of the technology.
The trial, which will see medicines delivered from the seaside town of Norddeich to the North Sea island of Juist, will be the first time in Europe that flights by an unmanned aircraft will be operated outside the pilot’s field of vision in a real-life mission.
Restricted flight area
A restricted flight area was established for the project in consultation with German federal and local officials, with flights planned to take place each day, depending on the weather. DHL initiated the project in December 2013 with one-and-a-half mile flights across the Rhine, terminating at a lawn behind the company’s headquarters in Bonn, in which the drone was controlled by a pilot on the ground and within eyeshot.
For the upcoming trial DHL said it worked with its partners, Microdrones and the Institute of Flight System Dynamics at RWTH Aachen University, to toughen its quadcopter for weather conditions in the North Sea. The seven-and-a-half mile North Sea flights will be completely automated, but will be monitored by a ground station in Norddeich so that a human pilot can take over if needed.
The drones are to land at a field on the island, with a normal DHL courier taking over for the final step of the delivery.
The company said it is currently investigating such devices only for use in exceptional circumstances, and not for ordinary deliveries.
“To the extent that it is technically feasible and economically sensible, the use of parcelcopters to deliver urgently needed goods to thinly populated or remote areas or in emergencies is an interesting option for the future,” DHL stated.
The quadcopter can travel up to 18 metres per second at a height of up to 50 metres, weighing 5 kilograms and capable of carrying a load of up to 1.2kg, DHL said.
Amazon and Google are both trialling drones for deliveries, but due to regulatory restrictions in the US, those tests have been carried out indoors or abroad: Amazon said it has tested drone flights in Canada, and Google in the remote outback of Queensland, Australia.
The US’ Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been ordered by Congress to frame a plan for the commercial use of drones by 30 September of next year, while the European Commission said in April it had begun working on regulations for the use of commercial drones, including for use in parcel delivery.
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