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  December 6th, 2016 | Written by

DHL to Test Mobile Apps on Drones

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  • A prototype for a UAS traffic management system is to be developed as part of research project.
  • The safe and rapid delivery of parcels in urban areas using autonomous aircraft is to be tested.
  • Parcelcopters to make deliveries in urban environments.

A group of partners, including Deutsche Post DHL Group, are to launch a joint research project on drones.

DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung, Deutsche Telekom, and DHL Parcel signed an agreement to research concrete applications of unmanned aircraft. The objective is the safe integration of unmanned aircraft in air traffic.

In the future, the mobile network could be used for the surveillance and monitoring of unmanned aircraft beyond the remote pilot’s line of sight. The new technology will be tested in concrete applications. One application is the delivery of parcels. DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung, Deutsche Telekom and DHL Parcel together with the RWTH Aachen University have launched a research project to study the possibilities.

One goal of this project is to examine if Deutsche Telekom’s mobile network can be used to connect unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to the mobile internet. A prototype for a UAS traffic management system (UTM) is also to be developed to raise the safety level in uncontrolled airspace and allow flights over larger distances. Finally, the safe and rapid delivery of parcels in urban areas using autonomous aircraft is to be tested, which will open up the chance to offer new logistics services. All those involved are also interested in proving the business case underlying such an overall system.

The first application is going to be the DHL Parcelcopter. DHL has been running its own research project since 2013. In the latest trial run at the beginning of 2016, the delivery of urgently needed goods, such as medicines, was tested in the Bavarian village of Reit im Winkl. For the first time, end-customers could use especially modified Packstations, dubbed DHL SkyPorts, to send and receive shipments. A safe interface between the Parcelcopter and end-customers was successfully trialled, showing that drones can be integrated into logistics processes.

These successes are the foundation for the new cooperation agreement, which will also see Parcelcopters advance, in close collaboration with the competent authorities, to making deliveries in an urban environment. “We are more than convinced that the Parcelcopter has allowed us to create real added value in the field of logistics and offer people a new kind of access to the flexible and, most importantly, rapid dispatch and delivery of goods,” says Jürgen Gerdes, Management Board Member for Post – eCommerce – Parcel at Deutsche Post DHL Group.

Equipping unmanned aircraft with a mobile communications module will allow them to be located. This module will establish a connection to the mobile network and transmit data generated in the drone, such as GPS coordinates or information about the system. The first trial in the Ruhr region of Germany showed that a broadband data connection can be maintained up to an altitude of several hundred meters. Connecting the UAS poses a technical challenge, however, as the network is designed to work with devices on the ground, not in the air.

“In the future, unmanned aircraft will need to be able to communicate. This requires a resilient network and technology, the foundations of which we are jointly developing with strong and relevant partners,” said Bruno Jacobfeuerborn, CTO Deutsche Telekom AG.

By developing a UAS traffic management system, the position data transmitted through the mobile network can be incorporated in an air situation display and aircraft can be controlled almost autonomously. The flow of data can also go in the other direction. Information from existing air traffic control systems can be sent to UAS via this data channel, for weather warnings or information about restricted areas, for example. To improve safety for manned flight operations, researchers are to look for ways to connect the UAS traffic management system to the existing air traffic management systems.