Cargo drones may not yet be regulated enough to be unleashed into the skies of major airfreight hubs, but major integrators, such as DHL Express, have be partnering with unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) manufacturers to create increasingly intelligent, reliable and customizable drone systems when the time comes.
The latest demonstration took place today in Guangzhou, China, through a strategic partnership between DHL Express and EHang, a China-based maker of intelligent, autonomous UAVs, with the inaugural launch of the new “Falcon” drone vehicle (at right), marking the first time an international express company based outside of China has provided UAV service in the country.
The demonstration flight, which took place at EHang’s Command and Control Center in Guangzhou, followed a customized, 8-kilometer route to DHL’s service center in Liaobu, Dongguan, in Guangdong Province. By carrying its payload in a straight line through the air, the Falcon reduced the typical surface-level transit time of 40 minutes to just 8 minutes – an 80% reduction in one-way delivery time.
“This is an exciting time for the logistics sector, with continued growth of the Chinese economy and cross-border trade, particularly in South China and the Greater Bay Area,” said Wu Dongming, CEO of DHL Express China. “This means there is a tremendous volume of logistics needs,” for the many small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and startups in the region seeking last-mile delivery options.
Based on today’s launch, Hu Huazhi, founder and CEO of EHang, said, he expects smart drone delivery to be expanded and realized in more areas, given the growing prominence of B2C business operations and delivery in China.
The EHang Falcon utilizes eight propellers on four arms and includes multiple redundant systems for a full backup plan in case of mechanical problems and can carry loads of up to 5 kilograms per flight. Using both GPS and visual identification systems, the fully automated UAV can take off and land atop “intelligent cabinets,” (at left) EHang said, that were developed for loading and offloading shipments.
The intelligent-cabinet landing pads can sort, scan and store DHL’s express mail packages, and feature high-tech functions, such as facial recognition and ID scanning.
DHL has been testing several UAVs for small payload deliveries, most recently in East Africa’s the Lake Victoria region, delivering small, time-sensitive medicines to a clinic on a remote Tanzanian island via its fixed-wing “Parcelcopter 4.0” vehicle.