DHL, the first parcel service provider in the world to directly integrate a drone logistically into its delivery chain, has reportedly discontinued the Parcelcopter project. The last prototype that the company developed for consumer drone deliveries was in 2018. And now, DHL has confirmed to news reporters in Germany that it no longer intends to continue testing Parcelcopter or manufacture its own drones.
The news comes days after a report revealed that Amazon had let go of more than 100 Prime Air employees in the UK and transferred many others, effectively shuttering its drone delivery program in the country.
DHL, a division of the German logistics firm Deutsche Post, has been working on delivery drones since 2013.
Since the Parcelcopter’s maiden flight in December 2013, which saw the then-quadcopter transport a small parcel 1 km across the Rhine River, the delivery drone has been modified and optimized several times.
In Parcelcopter’s last publicized project, DHL teamed with GIZ – a group focused on sustainable development – and drone manufacturer Wingcopter to supply medicines to isolated areas in eastern Africa using the Parcelcopter 4.0 drone.
DHL delivery drone program: Just a PoC for last-mile delivery?
Now, the DHL team has resigned to calling Parcelcopter an impressive (albeit expensive) “proof of concept.”
Acknowledging that the drone industry is overflowing with “unrealistic hype” as overeager entrepreneurs and established drone-based companies alike “overpromise” on their innovative technology, Jürgen Gerdes, management board member for post, e-commerce – parcel at DHL, says:
We are more than convinced that the Parcelcopter has allowed us to create real added value in the field of logistics. In the future, this could take the shape of deliveries of emergency medical supplies or deliveries to regions situated in a challenging geographical location. The parcelcopter arguably allows us to offer people in such areas a new kind of access to the flexible and, most importantly, rapid dispatch and delivery of goods.
Renewed focus on middle-mile delivery
Meanwhile, the international logistics giant has been ramping up activity in the middle-mile aerial delivery space. In July, the freight forwarder teamed up with Bulgarian drone manufacturer Dronamics on medium-distance, cross-border, and inter-city missions. And just last week, DHL announced the acquisition of 12 battery-powered long-range aircraft from Seattle-based Eviation.
Eviation’s Alice aircraft is not uncrewed though. It’s a single-pilot plane that is particularly adapted to middle-range routes and requires little investment in new infrastructure to operate. DHL says it will use the Alice planes to assemble feeder networks across the US by starting on both coasts – California being the first location.