We’re flying high with SURFLOGH drone deliveries!
In an earlier pilot SURFLOGH tested the delivery of perishable goods to cooled lockers, collaborating with De Streekboer (local organic farmers). Now, Drenthe wants to test the potential of drones as a suitable way to deliver goods in rural areas and has been collaborating with Drone Delivery Services (a local startup) in cooperation with De Buren (operators of unmanned collection points) and VEPA (manufacturers of De Buren locker walls). Now the trial involved a large drone, with a span of almost a meter, delivering a small parcel of medical goods to a locker located at the bus station in Borger, a hub beside the N34 motorway.
Maneuvers with precision
The drone, manually operated at a distance, was maneuvered above trees towards the parcel locker 100 meters further where it hovered in position while a latch opened on the top. With the utmost precision, the wallet containing medicine was lowered and dropped, landing gently in the padded locker.
Regional politicians are highly interested in this latest drone initiative.:Nelleke Vedelaar, Deputy for Transport, Province of Drenthe & Jeroen Hartsuiker, Alderman, Municpality of Borger-Odoorn
Potential accessibility in rural areas
Deputy Nelleke Vedelaar did the honours by opening the locker with a code sent to her mobile phone. “It’s not our intention to fill the airspace with drones,” she explains. “But this could potentially have a significant impact on accessibility in rural areas, in certain circumstances. And there’s a big difference in CO2 emissions compared to transport by road.”
Drones are no replacement for other delivery modes but could be considered for special or urgent orders such as blood samples or medicines whereby one can avoid the risk of traffic congestion etc. Rolf Meerbach, SURFLOGH project manager at the provincial authority, adds: “This pilot is looking to the future of logistics and we’re happy to have the opportunity, within the context of SURFLOGH, to test the possibilities with other regional logistics stakeholders.”
The drone hovers above the locker before dropping the parcel with precision.
Legislation is an obstacle
Frans Hamstra COO of Drone Delivery Services (DDS) joins in. ”We hope that within the next five years this will be fairly normal. Ultimately, we’re aiming for flight deliveries covering a distance of 40 to 50 kilometers. Technically speaking, these deliveries are already possible but legislation is still an obstacle. “At the moment you must fly ‘within sight’,” adds Hamstra. “Imagine flying a drone remotely, sitting behind a laptop. Then you need to be very certain that the parcel being delivered lands precisely, down to the square centimeter.”
Aiming for automized system
Now the drones are flown manually. “But we are aiming for an automized system where they are steered by a pilot from a control room along a route of GSM masts,” says DDS co-founder Egbert Swierts. There are many obstacles to overcome. Swierts: “Like European regulations. We need to test much more and then prove drone deliveries are not dangerous. Only then can we fly over areas without cordoning everything off.”
Drone delivery viability
Remains the question: Is drone delivery really a viable option? The Province of Drenthe sees the potential for rural areas where urgent/special deliveries can be challenging. Drones can make health care more accessible and efficient, and could also be safer than existing emergency transportations by road.
DDS also has high expectations for another kind of drone – the hydrogen drone. This is larger and can cover greater distances. The company just bought one. “It can fly at least 100 kilometers ,” says Frans Hamstra. “The problem is that hydrogen tanks are not allowed to fly yet – H2 is considered a hazardous substance. But a lot is being undertaken right now to change this within the year.”
It's clear there is still a lot to investigate. How do we organize our airspace? Should drones communicate with airplanes, for instance? And what about citizen support? Through the collaboration with SURFLOGH and logistics stakeholders in the region, this delivery combination – drone to parcel locker – was successfully tested. We look forward to future developments in the drone world. As yet, the sky’s the limit!
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Photos: Willemijn van Maanen, provincie Drenthe