DHL launches its first fully-automated urban drone delivery service

DHL Express and EHang, an intelligent autonomous aerial vehicle company, have entered into a strategic partnership to jointly launch a fully automated and intelligent smart drone delivery solution to tackle the last-mile delivery challenges in the urban areas of China.

This launch makes DHL the first international express company to provide such a service in China.

“We are delighted to be partnering with EHang to set a new innovation milestone with this new fully-automated and intelligent drone logistics solution, which combines the strength of the world’s largest international express company together with one of the leading UAV companies in the world. This is an exciting time for the logistics sector, with continued growth of the Chinese economy and cross-border trade, particularly in South China and the Greater Bay Area, which is home to an increasing number of SMEs and startups. This means there is a tremendous volume of logistics needs, which in turn creates new opportunities for implementing innovative solutions that can continuously drive growth with greater efficiency, sustainability and less cost,” Wu Dongming, CEO, DHL Express China said.

“Together with DHL we are very glad to bring the first smart drone delivery service route to China in Guangzhou; this marks a new beginning in building air logistics for smart cities. Riding on today’s launch, we expect smart drone delivery as an innovative logistics solution to be expanded and realized in more areas, and we look forward to working with DHL in building the eco-system for a multi-dimensional urban air transport system,” Mr. Hu Huazhi, Founder & CEO of EHang, said.

The EHang Falcon smart drone, with eight propellers on four arms, is designed with multiple redundant systems for full backup, and smart and secure flight control modules. Its high-performance features include vertical take-off and landing, high accuracy GPS and visual identification, smart flight path planning, fully-automated flight and real-time network connection and scheduling. As a fully-automated and intelligent solution, the drones, which can carry up to 5kg of cargo per flight, take off and land atop intelligent cabinets that were specifically developed for the fully autonomous loading and offloading of the shipment. The intelligent cabinets seamlessly connect with automated processes including sorting, scanning and storage of express mail, and will feature high-tech functions such as facial recognition and ID scanning.

Brisbane company secures $US2.45m for high-tech defence drones

Skyborne, a Brisbane-based drone company, has secured $US2.45 million in international capital investment to expand its tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle business into overseas markets.
Innovation Minister Kate Jones said Skyborne received a grant through round two of the government’s Ignite Ideas program to develop their ground-breaking tri-tilt-rotor UAV, Cerberus GL.
“Since the government first partnered with Skyborne in 2017, they’ve created an extra 10 positions in Brisbane and are scaling up to export their technology overseas. This is a great example of a company that’s successfully leveraged government support to attract significant international investment from a private investor based in Abu Dhabi to continue growing its business and get closer to commercialisation,” she said.
The Cerberus GL UAV weighs less than six kilograms and has the capability to provide user aerial support on the battlefield, being classed as the lightest armed tactical UAV of its class, with applications in defence, counter-terrorism and law enforcement.
Skyborne Technologies CEO and Director Dr Michael Creagh said that although the Cerberus GL weighed less than six kilograms it was capable of providing aerial fire support at the squad and platoon level. It could also be used to deploy flash or smoke grenades to assist with counter-terrorism and law enforcement initiatives.
“It has been an amazing two years for Skyborne under Advance Queensland’s Ignite Ideas program, securing a Series A round of investment to expand our engineering team and manufacturing capabilities to deliver a commercialised product to interested parties,” Dr Creagh said.
“Raising capital for the next generation of tactical UAVs is not an easy undertaking and without grant programs like Ignite Ideas, companies like ours face an even greater struggle.”
Skyborne Technologies Chief Business Officer and Director Adrian Dudok said the support from the Queensland Government and recent capital raise has allowed Skyborne to employ seven additional staff and move to a larger commercial premise to support in-house manufacturing.
“With the continued support from the Queensland Government, Skyborne will contribute towards the focus on strengthening Queensland’s defence and manufacturing industry. The export opportunities are endless and we’ve received some serious interest from the US and Middle East.”

UPS supports vaccine drone delivery program in Ghana

The UPS Foundation and Gavi have announced support for the expansion of a medical drone network into Ghana.
Zipline, a California-based automated logistics company, will use drones to make on-demand, emergency deliveries of 148 high priority products including emergency and routine vaccines, blood products and life-saving medications.
The service will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from four distribution centers—each equipped with 30 drones—and deliver to over 2,000 health facilities serving 12 million people across the country.
The partnership between the Government of Rwanda and Zipline, supported by philanthropic grants and in-kind support from The UPS Foundation and Gavi, pioneered just-in-time drone delivery of blood products to hard-to-reach clinics in Rwanda.
The Government of Ghana is building on that success with expanded Zipline services, supported again by Gavi and the UPS Foundation and joined this time by the Gates Foundation and Pfizer. The Zipline drone network will be integrated into the national healthcare supply chain in Ghana and will help prevent vaccine stockouts in health facilities as well as during national immunisation campaigns.
“The ability of the Government to supplement routine immunisation on demand will allow us to make sure that there will always be enough life-saving vaccines for every child in Ghana. This is an exciting development for Gavi that is ultimately going to ensure we leave no one behind and help us protect more children living in remote areas against vaccine preventable diseases,” Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance said.
Logistics will be managed through Zipline’s hardware and software systems in each of the distribution centres, and deliveries will take place at hospitals and health clinics. The UPS Foundation will provide $3 million, including $2.4 million in funding and UPS will provide $600,000 of in-kind shipping services. Separately, UPS has already begun an analysis of Ghana’s healthcare supply chain, providing expertise designed to complement the government’s vision to continually optimise the delivery of healthcare products.

UPS launches drone service to deliver medical supplies in California

UPS has announced a new logistics service to deliver medical samples via unmanned drones through a collaboration with an autonomous drone technology provider, Matternet.
The program is taking place at WakeMed’s flagship hospital and campus in the Raleigh, N.C., metropolitan area, with oversight by the Federal Aviation Administration and North Carolina Department of Transportation.
The program will utilise Matternet’s M2 quadcopter, which is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, and can carry medical payloads weighing up to about 5 lbs. over distances of up to 12.5 miles.
Throughout the WakeMed program, a medical professional will load a secure drone container with a medical sample or specimen – such as a blood sample – at one of WakeMed’s nearby facilities. The drone will fly along a predetermined flight path, monitored by a specially trained Remote Pilot-in-Command (RPIC), to a fixed landing pad at WakeMed’s main hospital and central pathology lab. This will be an ongoing program at WakeMed, and UPS and Matternet will use the learnings to consider how drones can be applied to improve transport services at other hospitals and medical facilities across the U.S.
Enhancing the UPS Global Smart Logistics Network to support hospitals and other healthcare organisations remains a key element of the company’s transformation strategy.
Healthcare and life science logistics is a priority segment for UPS, and the company is building new relationships and technologies to deliver better patient care with streamlined logistics and supply chain.
This collaboration is the latest UPS program to utilise drone flights in support of healthcare logistics. UPS partnered with GAVI and Zipline in 2016 to deliver blood products to remote locations in Rwanda. The Matternet team has already completed more than 3,000 flights for healthcare systems in Switzerland.

Airbus trials drone delivery to ships

Airbus has begun shore-to-ship trials in Singapore with its Skyways parcel delivery drone.
This marks the first time drone technology has been deployed in real port conditions to deliver a variety of small, time-critical maritime essentials to working vessels at anchorage.
The trials are being undertaken in conjunction with partner Wilhelmsen Ships Services,.
During the trials, Airbus’ Skyways drone will lift off from the pier with a payload capability of up to 4 kg, and navigate autonomously along pre-determined ‘aerial corridors’ to vessels as far as 3 km from the coast.
“We are thrilled to launch the first trial of its kind in the maritime world. Today’s accomplishment is a culmination of months of intense preparation by our dedicated team, and the strong collaboration with our partner, as we pursue a new terrain in the maritime industry,” A Leo Jeoh, Airbus’ Skyways lead said.
“We are also happy to be taking a step forward for Airbus’ urban air mobility endeavour, as we continue to explore and seek better understanding of what it takes to fly safe and reliable autonomous flying vehicles safely,” he added.
“The now proven, seamless operation of drone deliveries from shore to ship, in one of the world’s busiest ports proves the hard work, investment and faith we, and indeed our partners, placed in the Agency by Air project over the past two years was not misplaced,” Marius Johansen, Vice President Commercial, Ships Agency at Wilhelmsen Ships Services said.
“Delivery of essential spares, medical supplies and cash to master via launch boat, is an established part of our portfolio of husbandry services, which we provide day in and day out, in ports all over the world. Modern technology such as the unmanned aircraft systems, are just a new tool, albeit a very cool one, with which we can push our industry ever forward and improve how we serve our customers,” he added.

Boeing unveils Australian-developed unmanned drone

Boeing has introduced its newest unmanned platform, the Boeing Airpower Teaming System.
Designed for global defense customers by Boeing Australia, it is the company’s largest investment in a new unmanned aircraft program outside the United States.
The aircraft will complement and extend airborne missions through smart teaming with existing military aircraft.
A model of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System was unveiled at the Australian International Airshow by the Australian Minister for Defence, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP.
As a research and development activity, the Australian Government and Boeing will produce a concept demonstrator called the Loyal Wingman – Advanced Development Program that will provide key learnings toward the production of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System.
“The Boeing Airpower Teaming System will provide a disruptive advantage for allied forces’ manned/unmanned missions,” said Kristin Robertson, vice president and general manager of Boeing Autonomous Systems. “With its ability to reconfigure quickly and perform different types of missions in tandem with other aircraft, our newest addition to Boeing’s portfolio will truly be a force multiplier as it protects and projects air power.”
The Boeing Airpower Teaming System will:

  • Provide fighter-like performance, measuring 38 feet long (11.7m) and able to fly more than 2,000 nautical miles
  • Integrate sensor packages onboard to support intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions and electronic warfare
  • Use artificial intelligence to fly independently or in support of manned aircraft while maintaining safe distance between other aircraft.

“This aircraft is a historic endeavor for Boeing. Not only is it developed outside the United States, it is also designed so that our global customers can integrate local content to meet their country-specific requirements,” said Marc Allen, president, Boeing International.
“The Boeing Airpower Teaming System provides a transformational capability in terms of defense, and our customers – led by Australia – effectively become partners on the program with the ability to grow their own sovereign capabilities to support it, including a high-tech workforce.”

Hype or reality?

Drones, driverless trucks and robots are commonly discussed in the logistics sector as game-changing factors, but are these concepts largely hype? LMH finds out.
When Amazon made its first-ever public Prime Air drone delivery in the US last year, people in the logistics sector started to consider and ask questions around whether this would be something that the industry would adopt in the near future.
Many of the tech giants, including Google, Apple, Microsoft and Uber, are investing in and testing drones, but is there really a place for drones in large-scale distribution?
The Amazon test that took place in 2017, saw a drone drop off some bottles of sunscreen for attendees at the company’s conference in California. While this grabbed the headlines globally, is this practical in terms of commercial and large-scale delivery?
According to Andrew Clark, Managing Director at Logistics Help, a lot of the technology that is gripping the media is a long way of from actual practical implementation. “Some of this technology is looking further and further into the future, this all may be coming, it’s definitely not in the near future.”
Andrew points out that, according to current Australian legislation, drones deliveries are prohibited in cities due to the 30 metre no fly radius from people. He then asks, whether we even want a world where there are thousands of drones flying around and delivering packages all the time?
While some do argue that these disruptive technologies will shape the future of logistics, Andrew refers to the Gartner Hype Cycle, to try to understand the implications of these advancements in technology.
The Gartner Hype Cycle was established to provide a graphic representation of the maturity and adoption of technologies and applications, and how they are potentially relevant to solving real business problems and exploring opportunities.
The methodology aims to give a view of how a new technology or application will evolve over time, providing a sound source of insight to manage its deployment within the context of specific business goals.
The hype cycle is broken down into five phases of a technology’s life cycle. According to Gartner, first there is the innovation trigger, this is the technology which kicks things off. There will be early proof-of-concept stories and media interest that trigger publicity, but often no usable products exist and commercial viability is unproven.
Next in the cycle is the peak of inflated expectations. At this stage, there are a number of success stories, much like Amazon’s sunscreen delivery. Here some companies start to take action and invest in the technology.
After this, Gartner describes what happens as a trough of disillusionment. The interest has faded as experiments and practical implementations fail to deliver. Producers of the technology fail and investments continue only if the surviving providers improve their products to the satisfaction of early adopters.
Andrew offers the example of Rethink Robotics, a robotics company that launched in 2008 and closed in October this year. Rethink Robotics was a US-based company that pioneered the development of cobots ­– collaborative robots designed to work alongside humans.
“This concept was all over the news, it was impressive technology but we are at least five and probably ten of more years away from a robot that replaces a storeman or a worker. The Rethink Robotics just weren’t a product that people needed to buy,” Andrew says.
The final stage in the Gartner Hype Cycle is the plateau of productivity. This is when mainstream adoption starts to take off. Criteria for assessing viability is more clearly defined and the technology’s application and relevance starts to pay off.
For Andrew, some of the technologies that are currently in the early stages of the hype cycle are a long way from reality, especially for the small to medium enterprise market. “If a lot of these technologies get used at all, they will be largely for the big companies to live with the costs. At the moment, there is marginal or zero return on investment.”
Using drones as an example, Andrew says that if they do have a place in logistics it is most likely for remote deliveries. “With drones, there are issues around risk, loss of asset, damaged asset etc. If you were going to lose say 10 per cent of your drone fleet a year, you might just decide to put the parcel in a truck and drive it.”
Back to basics
Andrew argues that many businesses are yet to take advantage of technology that is already widely available. Warehouse Management Systems, for instance, have been on the market and transforming logistics operations for nearly 30 years. But according to Andrew, most are smaller and medium sized businesses are yet to take advantage of the technology.
“It’s all well and good talking about drones, robotics, Industry 4.0, but in many warehouses the most advanced technology used to assist order picking ia a piece of paper.”
Part of the slow deployment of technology is down to the perception of cost, but Andrew says the cost of logistics software and technology has fallen significantly over the last few years and it’s not more affordable than ever.
“The small businesses have the same problems as the big businesses. A small e-commerce business needs a very sophisticated warehouse system to run it. They can have 1000’s of orders a day, that are being processed entirely on a paper-based system. This could take 20-30 people to process, but with the right systems they could do it with half that number,” Andrew says.
As businesses start to scale up and grow, if they cannot fulfil orders accurately and on time, they won’t survive, he says. “There are two main problems that SMEs face with regards to logistics. They struggle to manage their inventory well and their warehouses are run with old and inefficient practices and little or no technology support.”
Sophisticated inventory planning is key in the e-commerce world. “You can easily have several million dollars of inventory and not be a big business. But if you are not buying and selling correctly you will over buy things that don’t sell and under buy things that do. Businesses end up losing sales because they can’t keep up with demand and have to discount, or discard underperforming stock,” Andrew says.
Many of the big corporations are doing all of the right things with regard to warehouse management, but Andrew believes that it’s the SMEs that are getting left behind. “When they start looking to improve their logistics operations they are often struggling to find the skills and knowledge needed to implement these systems.”
Andrew believes that SMEs should have access to the same advanced logistics practice and technology that are common practice in the corporate world, but the SMEs may be unaware of the many benefits they could realise. “SMEs would be far better off implementing better inventory management and warehouse management systems, before investing in over-hyped technology such as drones and robotics.”
 

First-ever worldwide drones standards unveiled

The ISO Draft International Standards for Drone Operations have been released for public consultation, with the final adoption of the world’s first drone standards expected in 2019.
The rules, which form a voluntary code of practice, are the first set of international standards for drones.
“Most drone makers are doing everything they can, but some don’t use existing materials. They may not come from an aviation background, for example. Everybody across the industry believes drones can be safe and of great benefit to mankind. Operators and service providers alike are keen to establish a baseline,” Robert Garbett, ISO drone expert said.
The standards include a flying “etiquette” around no-fly zones, geo-fencing technology that can stop flights in restricted areas, flight logging requirements as well as training and maintenance standards.
They also call on flyers to keep drone hardware and software up to date and have a human monitor for all flights.
Read more:

Global logistics spending expected to reach $10.6 trillion by 2020

Recent research revealed by Frost & Sullivan finds that global logistics spending is expected to reach $10.6 trillion in 2020, with transportation accounting for the majority at 70%.
Emerging technologies such as cloud computing, big data, and crowd sourcing, coupled with an influx of tech-savvy start-ups, are revolutionising the space of urban logistics.
About two fifths of the overall logistics costs are associated with the last mile that are forcing providers to come up with newer innovative solutions to deliver packages within cities.
The research predicts the logistics market will rapidly move toward mobile freight brokerage-type, on-demand deliveries and autonomous technology, such as the use of drones and delivery bots which are set to solve the last mile delivery challenge by being more cost-effective to end users with lesser regulatory mandates.
“Spiralling last-mile delivery costs and changing customer demands are causing retailers to rethink their strategies and look toward new business models such as click-and-collect, locker boxes, on-demand and autonomous solutions,” said Vijay Narayanan Natarajan, Visionary Innovation Senior Research Analyst at Frost & Sullivan. “Moreover, the influx of start-ups in logistics has enabled innovative solutions that not only provide value-creation customized solutions for the consumer, but also tackle the inefficiencies currently witnessed.”
Further trends and developments driving growth include:

  • Digital freight brokering platforms reducing empty miles by 8% to 10%;
  • Shift toward low-emission and zero-emission solutions, such as use of low-carbon vehicles or bicycles;
  • Fleet operators expanding their strategies by developing urban distribution centers for effective logistics management; and
  • Retailers focusing on compact stores to reduce capital expenditure and bring products closer to a growing urban customer base.
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