Will DHL drones deliver ?

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 In 2014, DHL released a report on using drones for logistics. After a general presentation, focused on drone applications and working, the authors present the vision of DHL for four use cases: first/last mile delivery, rural delivery, infrastructure surveillance, and intralogistics.

The first/last mile delivery, depending on if your are shipping or receiving, consists in having a drone take care of the delivery from/to the local warehouse, or a moving vehicle, to/from the customer or some packet storing station. DHL envisions a drone dynamically planning its path to meet the customer at an outdoor position provided by GPS possibly from the customer phone. The drone would stay aloft and lower the parcel to the customer for retrieval whether on it garden, balcony or roof.

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Rural delivery would aim at providing off-peak delivery or express shipping to otherwise hard to reach locations. Experiments have been made by DHL for pharmaceutical products delivery, with take-off, flying, and landing above building-free routes.

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For infrastructure surveillance, DHL seem to be well aware of the needs of industries such as the energy industry. These require linear infrastructure surveillance, large site mapping and assets tracking. Though, there is no mention of technological solutions.

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 The intralogistics uses case is closely linked to the factory of the future topic, indeed the idea is to have drones flying inside a private area (e.g. a factory) and accomplishing tasks like transporting items quickly from on point to another or performing inventory checks.

According to this report, the two most promising use cases are the two first: last/first mile delivery and rural delivery. And one can see that on the rural delivery topic there is mention of experiments being carried out, yet the last/first mile delivery part just mentions ideas but no real solution. Though ambitious, DHL takes care of keeping the public expectations at a level corresponding to what the technology and regulation allow. This is a remainder of the importance of having customer expectations and technological development growing at a similar pace (see this previous article).

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