The drone industry in 2019 has seen a number of ambitious delivery services take flight and generally make progress.
Zipline recently launched a delivery network in Ghana, Google’s Project Wing is open for business in Australia, and investment in the delivery space continues to flow.
Now German postal giant DHL Express, a leading international courier and delivery service, has partnered with Chinese drone manufacturer EHang. The aim: To jointly launch a drone delivery solution that tackles last-mile delivery challenges in urban parts of China.
The two companies held a launch ceremony earlier this month at EHang’s Command and Control Center in Guangzhou. The inaugural flight made DHL the first international express company to provide urban drone delivery solutions in China.
EHang is perhaps best known for its 184 drone, a personal transport vehicle that was recently given the all-clear in China as part of a passenger drone program. There have also been rumors that the company is planning a U.S. IPO.
Innovation milestone at a time of logistical needs
The new drone delivery service route covers a distance of eight kilometers between the customer premises and DHL’s service center in Liaobu, Dongguan, Guangdong Province.
The drone used is one of EHang’s new Falcon series. The partners say the service will reduce one-way delivery time from 40 minutes to only eight minutes, with cost savings of up to 80% per delivery.
There are also obvious benefits to be found in reduced energy consumption and a lower carbon footprint compared with traditional transportation.
“We are delighted to be partnering with EHang to set a new innovation milestone with this new fully-automated and intelligent drone logistics solution, which combines the strength of the world’s largest international express company together with one of the leading UAV companies in the world,” said Wu Dongming, CEO, DHL Express China.
“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, which is home to an increasing number of SMEs and startups. This means there is a tremendous volume of logistics needs, which in turn creates new opportunities for implementing innovative solutions that can continuously drive growth with greater efficiency, sustainability and less cost.”
EHang Falcon put to work
The EHang Falcon has eight propellers on four arms, is designed with multiple redundant systems for full backup, and includes smart and secure flight control modules.
On top of vertical take-off and landing, high accuracy GPS and visual identification, it promises “smart flight path planning,” fully-automated flight and real-time network connection and scheduling.
Each drone can carry up to 5kg of cargo per flight and take off and land using intelligent cabinets that have been specifically developed for the fully autonomous loading and offloading of DHL shipments.
These intelligent cabinets connect with automated processes including sorting, scanning and storage of express mail, and will feature also rely on facial recognition and ID scanning.
Just the beginning for EHang and DHL
Hu Huazhi, Founder & CEO of EHang, said, “Together with DHL we are very glad to bring the first smart drone delivery service route to China in Guangzhou; this marks a new beginning in building air logistics for smart cities. Riding on today’s launch, we expect smart drone delivery as an innovative logistics solution to be expanded and realized in more areas, and we look forward to working with DHL in building the eco-system for a multi-dimensional urban air transport system.”
DHL has big plans for the future. The company expects to identify new routes that can be developed for clients in need aerial logistics solutions, and will work closely with EHang to create a second generation of drones that will improve the capacity and range of the service