Small-scale drone delivery programs have been launching all over the world this year, but we hadn’t seen a state postal service get involved until now. Last week, DPDgroup, which operates under La Poste in France as a package delivery service, announced that they’ve started a drone delivery program in the south of France. The program is sure to be watched closely worldwide, as more and more companies and postal services considered moving toward drone delivery.
DPDgroup’s program will be very small in scope. In practice, it’ll be similar to Amazon’s drone delivery program in the UK — drones will fly out from a fulfillment center, where packages will be loaded onto drones equipped with GPS. In this program, the drones will only make one delivery per week. The drones will make deliveries to a startup incubator located in Pourrières. That’s a remote location, so this is far from what drone delivery in Paris would look like.
The remote area is ideal for testing and working out basic problems with drone delivery — it’s a way to make sure all the little details are in order before tackling the regulatory and practical challenges urban drone delivery poses. Even this program was preceded by two years of testing, so while drone delivery has been a hot topic this year, it’ll still be quite a few years before it becomes ubiquitous, if it ever does.
The goal might not necessarily be a complete drone takeover of the postal service. The DPDgroup press release notes that, “these tests validate the approach chosen by DPDgroup aiming to use drones to access cut-off areas (mountains, islands, rural areas, etc.) or areas that are difficult to access.” Using drones to serve people in more remote areas makes more sense — this would provide services where they were once lacking without threatening millions of delivery jobs.
The drones used in the program will have a range of 20 km (a little less than 12.5 miles) and can carry up to 3 kg (about 6.6 pounds) at once, with a max speed of 30 km per hour (about 18.6 miles per hour). Instead of the usual quadcopter, these drones have six rotors, and are made with much more sturdy carbon fiber, as opposed to the foam seen in many recreational drones. Should the drone get damaged or knocked out of the sky, it has a parachute that deploys automatically, so the contents of the package are protected — preventing the package from then being stolen will be another issue to consider, although that might not be as much of a concern given that the test is being conducted in a remote location.