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.