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Originally published September 25, 2014 at 4:33 PM | Page modified September 26, 2014 at 6:55 AM

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DHL beats Amazon, Google to first scheduled drone delivery

A drone owned by German logistics company DHL is expected to take off and ferry medicine to Juist, a sparsely populated island off the northwestern coast of Germany, on Friday.


The New York Times

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LONDON — In the world of drones, Europe is out to show that whatever the United States can do, it can do better.

That’s the plan for Friday, when a small pilotless aircraft, or drone, owned by the German logistics company DHL is expected to take off and ferry medicine to Juist, a sparsely populated island off the northwestern coast of Germany.

The flight — expected to take as long as 30 minutes, depending on weather conditions — would be the first time a drone without the aid of even a land-based pilot has been authorized for regular use in Europe, the company said.

It also follows in the footsteps of similar drone-delivery plans by U.S. technology giants, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approving use Thursday of drones by several production companies for making movies.

Like Amazon, which is running tests in Canada, and Google, which is conducting tests in Australia, DHL is hoping its monthlong trial will prove that the technology — dubbed parcelcopter — can replace some of the traditional ways of delivering parcels to remote locations.

Yet while Google and Amazon have outlined plans to potentially roll out their drone services across large areas, DHL said that it probably would not expand the trial across its global delivery network.

Instead, the German logistics company said the drone technology could be used in special situations — in remote locations, for example — where it is more cost-effective to use an unmanned aircraft than to send a delivery van or a bike messenger.

That’s the case for DHL’s delivery service from Norden, near the northwestern city of Bremen, to Juist, a German island with a population of fewer than 2,000 people. As part of the trial, DHL is expected to send medications twice a day, weather permitting. The deliveries will take place when alternatives, like the local ferry or aircraft services, are not available.

When DHL’s drone, which weighs just under 3 pounds, lands on the island, one of the company’s couriers will then deliver the packages to residents, a spokeswoman said.

One of the major stumbling blocks for companies like Amazon and Google has been a lack of regulatory approval for drone flights. Earlier this year, for example, the FAA banned a proposed aerial-delivery service in Minnesota that would have ferried beer from a brewery to nearby ice fishermen.

DHL said that it had worked with the German air-traffic agency and the country’s Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure to create a restricted flight zone for the company’s drone project. The aircraft will hover 100 feet off the ground and reach speeds of up to 40 mph during the seven-mile journey from the mainland to Juist.

While the technology for DHL’s drone project, which began last year, has been well tested, a major stumbling block may be something the logistics company cannot control: the weather. High winds forecast off the German coast for Friday could delay the initial flight.



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