Parcelcopter Drone Project Delivers In Rough Terrain

DHL Wingcopter Medicine Drone

It’s a known fact that the last mile is also the longest mile in the parcel delivery service. The further removed from a hub city a delivery location is, the more required stops in between. Every part of the process slows to a glacial pace when the drop-off spot is inaccessible by land or air. Now apply this in the case of a medical emergency, and timing is everything.

Enter the joint project between [DHL and Wingcopter] dubbed Parcelcopter 4.0. The half plane, half helicopter drone design was recently tested over a six month period by making medical supply drops to Ukerewe island located in the middle of Lake Victoria. The remote island is home to roughly 400,000 people and many areas around the isle remain out of reach to traditional delivery vehicles. The island’s closest southern port is separated from mainland Tanzania by a four hour trip by barge and over six hours by road which makes drone delivery a potentially life saving option.

The Wingcopter drone itself is capable of vertical take off and landing (see 1:53 in the video below) while holding up to 9 lbs inside the thermally insulated cargo hold on the underside of the craft. It is controlled via 3G and/or 4G LTE, and according to the manufacturer website is capable of flying up to 60 miles on a single charge. Tests showed the drone made the nearly 40 mile trip across Lake Victoria in an average of 40 minutes.

It is interesting to see a real world commercial application seemingly ready to meet the needs of a vastly under served community. There are certainly many tests left to go before drone delivery goes into wider use, but thanks to this project the Parcelcopter 4.0 is 1400 air miles closer to that future.

33 thoughts on “Parcelcopter Drone Project Delivers In Rough Terrain

        1. There was a radio controlled helicopter seen dropping some contraband into a prison here in the UK.
          I’ve read about submersible drones being used by drug people in some places.

          1. Yeah the Prison one is VERY common in fact I found a 3D printed chute been sold for the purpose of multiple deliveries been shunted out with a servo and an actuator in Amazon no less!!!
            I think the Subs are largely man(A very disposable man!!) piloting them just under the surface although you may well be right seeing how the tech is progressing !
            Not this but you get the idea:

      1. Yep, I do imagine this as a big stunt and a chance to practice with the tech before they deliver important stuff like Fritz of Berlin’s exotic vibrating products, whips& chains and maybe some other important stuff like fast food over a country that may sue!!
        I think the tech would be right up for delivering a Fish and Chip supper or Kebab Roll as it is now….. Yummy!

    1. Yes, I think the Zipline has some valuable advantages, mainly that the overall amount of technology is less, meaning easier to maintain in the field. Also, the Zipline does not physically interact with the delivery point so safety is less of a concern and does not require local pilots to maintain a level of safety. However, both avenues completely prove the value of drone based package delivery.

    1. It would be tricky. Airplane characteristics change a lot when you scale it. As a result, a lot of model aircraft are much more powerful (relative to their size) than even large jets.

  1. If there are 400,000 people on that tiny island… why doesn’t ‘MSD’ put a stocked warehouse on that island and hire some people with bicycles and feet to do their deliveries?

    1. Would of been sensible, all the diseases mentioned are pritty common over there so they would be in constant use.A solar powered fridge may well be the lower tech option but that is far more boring than a supa-drone !
      That said they may have one and this is just for the “specials” who knows ?
      Want one of those drones though

  2. living in a rural location sucks. i live on a island in southeast alaska, population of about 3k. for one we dont have any of the usual shipping companies here. ups and fedex hand their parcels off to the post office at some point. the local post office doesnt deliver. you could spend $20+ on 2 day shipping and you get it in 6 days and you have to pick it up yourself. i cant even order from adafruit for example because they want to charge me shipping in the $50+ range. ups especially likes to gouge, the post office gives the best rates, if i can get whoever we order from to ship usps first class or priority i can usually get my package in four days and under $10. id love to see drone shipping so i actually get what i pay for.

  3. Sixty miles in a charge is pretty dang good. We knew serious applications that require range and efficiency wouldn’t be normal quads–they need a fixed-wing design–but this design sounds like it has worked out the best of both worlds.Looks cool too!

  4. ” according to the manufacturer website is capable of flying up to 60 miles on a single charge. Tests showed the drone made the nearly 40 mile trip across Lake Victoria in an average of 40 minutes.”

    So it makes it’s delivery (40 miles to) and then (40 miles to home base) drops into the middle of Lake Victoria?

    1. According to Google maps the distance between the two cities is 49KM as the drone flys so 100KM return say which is only a little over the 60 mile range so possible depending on the accuracy and you may find they do change the batteries or charge them, just didnt here to make good video?!?!

    1. You mean just like DHL who was also doing it two years ago? (and if we’re going by the YT posting dates – several months before)

      Done doesn’t mean entirely solved.
      Chronopost/DPD appear to have used a basic multi-copter, much like DHL’s first attempt, however DHL appear to have moved on to try both rotating wing and, as shown in the video in this article, a hybrid design with rotating prop and fixed wing (although I wonder what the version was that they skipped if the above video is v4).

  5. Why not just run a single rotor helicopter autonomously? large gassers can run as long and nearly at that speed. Not everything has to be a multirotor “drone” does it? If you just want to get something somewhere, get as large a model (or even automate a smaller piloted one) and get it done. scale the airframe to your cargo needs.

    1. This looks like a Tilt Rotor so with a little complexity aside it can get the same benefits of a multirotor vertical take off with a winged device efficiency for the long flight …cool!

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