Delivery by drone is taking another step toward reality. Starting tomorrow, delivery firm DHL will begin using unmanned drones called “parcelcopters” to drop off medicine to residents of Juist, a small, thinly populated island off northwestern Germany.
Friday's flight -- which could take up to 30 minutes -- marks the launch of the first ever commercial drone delivery service in Europe, according to DHL. It also marks the start of a 30-day trial to determine whether drop off by drone is an effective alternative to traditional modes of delivery.
For the duration of the trial, DHL will send medication to the island twice a day via drone when other alternatives such as aircraft or ferry services are not available, .
DHL's pilot program is similar to drone tests being done by Silicon Valley behemoths, most notably Amazon and Google. But while both tech companies predict that their plan to deploy drones for commercial delivery is still years away from fruition -- at least in part because of the stringent regulations imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration -- DHL is intent on showing that it can be done. At least in countries that are not the U.S.
DHL apparently avoided running afoul of regulators by working closely with the German Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure as well as the air traffic agency to create a restricted flight path, according to the Times.
Meanwhile, stateside, the FAA shut down a drone delivery service ferrying beer to ice fishers in Minnesota and banned the Washington Nationals from using a drone to take publicity photos earlier this year.
That's because at present, drones cannot be employed for commercial purposes in the U.S., no matter how seemingly harmless the intention. While the FAA has been working on a list of regulations for almost a decade, it is still months -- possibly years -- away from issuing a final set of rules for the commercial use of small drones.