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DHL starts regular autonomous drone deliveries in China

Like most of its competitors, the German-based international shipping giant DHL is very active on the autonomous drone front. This week, the company had some big news: it will start a regular drone delivery service in China.

DHL partnered with the drone specialists at EHang, the same company that broke a drone weightlifting record and showed off a 1-seater autonomous flying taxi. The Falcon drones EHang supplied for this particular project aren’t quite as sensational as those examples. They measure about 3 feet across, weigh 21 pounds and are capable of carrying a maximum load of 12 pounds.

EHang rates the Falcon’s flight time at about 18 minutes with a load and 38 when empty. Maximum flight speed is just over 40MPH.

DHL says that the drones will cut delivery times on their 8-kilometer route from 40 minutes down to just 8. Costs are cut by a whopping 80% and the carbon footprint is slashed, too.

The drones will pick up their cargo at one of the big, yellow “smart cabinets” you see at the top. They’re essentially strategically-placed mini-warehouses. DHL workers load it up with parcels and then the drone takes over.

The drone, which has been docked and waiting patiently for a task, receives its cargo, and then heads out to make the delivery. The Falcon is equipped with GPS and optical sensors to help guide it to its destination. It’s also fitted with eight rotors to ensure it can keep flying even if a few happen to quit while it’s in the middle of a run.

Drops are made at a second smart cabinet. The cargo is unloaded from the drone and the smart cabinet moves it to an empty locker. To make a pickup, a customer scans a code and verifies his or her identity using facial recognition.


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