Amazon and DHL exploring radical new delivery options – some highlights

Highlights from an article by Farhad Manjoo, 10 Aug 2016, in the New York Times

  • Already nearly unbeatable in American e-commerce, with a 2-day delivery business model for Amazon Prime customers, between 2010 and 2015 Amazon managed to cut its shipping costs from $5.25 per box to $4.26 per box, Deutsche estimates.
  • Instead of replacing partners like UPS and FedEx, Amazon is trying a new model entirely, to add to its overall capacity and efficiency in the short run and transform the delivery end of its business in the 5 year plus timeframe.  Already, in the last few years, Amazon has set up its own fleet of trucks, introduced an Uber-like crowdsourced delivery service; build many robot-powered warehouses; and continued to invest in drone delivery; and shown off an Amazon-branded 767 airplain, one of 40 in its planned fleet.
  • Drones offer Amazon and other delivery services a way to leapfrog roads and a way to cut delivery costs by half, according to analysts at Deutsche Bank.
  • Amazon is expanding drone testing in Britain.
  • Flying is vastly easier than driving in some areas.  Zipline, one drone delivery start-up is beginning to deliver medical goods in Rwanda this fall.
  • Amazon envisions drones being able to deliver packages up to 5 pounds in weight, which are 80-90% of its deliveries.
  • Amazon is on track for drone deliveries within five years, somewhere in the world.
  • Amazon has filed patents that envision using trucks as mobile shipping warehouses.  Pre-stocked trucks might be able to deliver some items within minutes.
  • DHL has tested a drone-to-locker delivery system in Germany.
  • Amazon is considering warehouses manned by robots and self-driving trucks.
  • Driverless trucks won’t solve the real problem in last-mile logistics, because most of a driver’s time is not spent driving, but walking to drop off packages. For last-mile networks at least, autonomous delivery drones seem to solve a much bigger problem than self-driving trucks would.   Route density makes today’s last-mile delivery networks extremely efficient.  FedEx and UPS trucks enjoy a marginal cost for dropping off one more parcel as low as $2.00. Drones launching from faraway warehouses won’t be able to compete with this efficiency any time soon.  But do drones and delivery trucks even need to compete? After all, what is a delivery truck but a mobile warehouse? It’s the perfect launching platform for a swarm of delivery drones designed to go the “last-meter” stretch from the street to the customer’s door.

DHL:  Successful trial integration of DHL Parcelcopter into logistics chain

  • Copter-based ‘last mile’ deliveries integrated for first time using fully automated loading and offloading at specially developed Packstations
  • Autonomous cross-country flights implemented under challenging alpine conditions

Bonn, 05/09/2016 



Private customers in Reit im Winkl and up on the Winklmoosalm plateau were invited to test out the specially developed Packstations, dubbed the Parcelcopter Skyport.

DHL Parcel has successfully concluded a three-month test of its third Parcelcopter generation. The trial run, part of a larger research and innovation project, was conducted between January and March 2016 in the Bavarian community of Reit im Winkl. It represents the first time worldwide that a parcel service provider has directly integrated a parcelcopter logistically into its delivery chain. Private customers in Reit im Winkl and up on the Winklmoosalm plateau were invited to test out the specially developed Packstations, dubbed the Parcelcopter Skyport. During the three month trial period, they could simply insert their shipments into the Skyport to initiate automated shipment and delivery per Parcelcopter. A total of 130 autonomous loading and offloading cycles were ultimately performed.

Automated loading & integration into logistic value chain

Automated loading and unloading via Parcelcopter SkyPort

As part of the trial, the technically upgraded vehicle was able to deal with heavier loads, longer distances and delivery to an alpine region notable for its geographical and meteorological challenges. The first task was to master the rapidly changing weather conditions and severe temperature fluctuation in the test area. With that achieved, the DHL Parcelcopter then performed a series of flawless flights. Each round trip from valley to plateau at roughly 1,200 meters above sea level covered eight kilometers of flight. The drone’s cargo was typically either sporting goods or urgently needed medicines and it arrived at the Alm station within just eight minutes of take-off. The same trip by car takes more than 30 minutes during winter.

“We’re the first worldwide who are able to offer a transport drone – Parcelcopter at DHL – for end-customer delivery. With this combination of fully automated loading and unloading as well as an increased transport load and range of our Parcelcopter we have achieved a level of technical and procedural maturity to eventually allow for field trials in urban areas as well,” said Jürgen Gerdes, Management Board Member for Post – eCommerce – Parcel at Deutsche Post DHL Group.

In the coming months DHL Parcel will be analyzing performance data and other insights from the trial together with its R&D partner, the Rheinisch-Westfälischen Technischen Hochschule Aachen (RWTH). The findings will be used to select other potential areas for testing.

The success of the project reflects an outstanding partnership with both the community of Reit im Winkl and also the relevant civil oversight agencies: the Federal Ministry for Transportation (BMVI) established a restricted flight zone specifically for this research project, and the Aviation Authority for the Region of Upper Bavaria provided the necessary flight clearances. Together with officials from the community of Reit im Winkl, all details were worked out to ensure that the project could operate safely and uninterruptedly at all times.

More information as well as video material and photos under