Amazon and Google have grabbed the headlines with their talk of using unmanned drones to deliver packages. But the U.S. Department of Defense and the parcel carrier DHL are actually making it work.
At the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals' (CSCMP) Annual Global Conference in September, Don Reed and Corey Cook of Lockheed Martin Corp. talked about an operational drone delivery system developed for the U.S. military. The K-Max unmanned aerial system (UAS) is a modified version of the K-1200 helicopter built by Kaman Aerospace Corp. This futuristic machine has already flown over 1,900 missions in Afghanistan and can comfortably lift between 1,000 and 6,000 pounds, depending on its altitude.
The success of the K-Max UAS in a combat environment has inspired Lockheed and Kaman to explore potential commercial applications, such as combating forest fires, oil field support in the Arctic, and use in remote construction sites. According to Reed and Cook, the machines are already being used for deliveries in Africa.
The military is not alone in finding practical uses for these unmanned wonders. DHL is conducting a pilot project on the North Sea island of Juist in Germany to deliver medications and other urgently needed goods via a small aircraft dubbed the "parcelcopter."
Weighing less than 11 pounds, the parcelcopter will carry shipments weighing up to 2.6 pounds in a specially designed lightweight, weatherproof container. The parcelcopter will touch down at its own landing field and launch pad; from there, a DHL courier will deliver the medications to the recipient.
DHL says it has no specific plans to use the aircraft in standard parcel-delivery operations, but it will continue to test and evaluate its technical feasibility and economic viability for delivering urgently needed goods to remote areas or during emergencies.