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Supply chain

Drones to deliver drugs to remote German pharmacy

All types of drugs could be carried in the DHL drone, except those requiring refrigeration.

Unmanned ‘parcelcopter’ will deliver drugs and other urgent supplies to a remote island in the North Sea, a few miles off the coast of Germany

Source: Deutsche Post AG

The flight will be automated, but the parcelcopter will be monitored constantly by a mobile ground station in Norddeich, Germany

An unmanned ‘parcelcopter’ will deliver drugs and other urgent supplies to a remote island in the North Sea, a few miles off the coast of Germany.

The deliveries to the 17km long island of Juist, by courier company DHL, will be the first time that an unmanned aircraft has been authorised to deliver goods in Europe, and the first time that automated drones have been used to deliver medicines anywhere in the world.

The trial project has been granted a restricted airspace for the 12km trip by the German ministry of transport and air traffic control, which is mostly over open water. Juist is accessed only by a once-daily ferry service and regular passenger flights. The drone will take urgent pharmacy and other supplies required outside of these services.

The parcelcopter will take off from the harbour in Norddeich, in the north of Germany, and land on a reserved launch pad and landing field on Juist, from where it will be collected by a DHL courier who will deliver the medicines to the island’s pharmacy.

The flight, at an altitude of 50m and at a speed of up to 18m per second, will be automated, but the parcelcopter will be monitored constantly by a mobile ground station in Norddeich which can intervene manually in an emergency.

A spokesperson for DHL Parcel says that, as it was a secure supply chain, all types of drugs could be carried, except those requiring refrigeration because a refrigeration unit would be too heavy for the parcelcopter to carry.

Asked whether parcelcopters could be used in the UK to deliver drugs to remote regions such as Scottish islands, the spokesperson said there were no plans to roll it out and if there was to be a comprehensive pilot project, Germany would probably be the first market to test it.

Amazon is exploring the use of drones to deliver parcels in the United States and has applied to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to be allowed to carry out outdoor test flights for research and development purposes. “One day, seeing Amazon Prime Air will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today, resulting in enormous benefits for consumers across the nation,” Amazon says in its submission to the FAA. 

The DHL spokesperson said the company had no plans to use parcelcopters for regular parcel delivery. 

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.20066674

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