DHL Express collaborates with EHang on last-mile drone delivery

DHL Express has agreed a strategic partnership with EHang in an effort to jointly operate a fully automated and intelligent smart drone that can undertake last-mile delivery in urban areas of China.

The launch ceremony was held last week (mid-May) at the EHang Command and Control Center in Guangzhou.

The EHang drone has already taken its inaugural flight for a DHL customer, making 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 [unmanned aerial vehicle] companies in the world,” declared Wu Dongming, chief executive of DHL Express China.

“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 start-ups.

“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.”

The drone flies over a route that was created specifically for the DHL customer, covering a distance of approximately 8km between the client’s premises and the DHL service centre in Liaobu, Dongguan, Guangdong Province.

Using the latest UAV in EHang’s newly-launched Falcon series of drones, the machine circumvents the complex road conditions and traffic congestion common to this and other urban areas. It reduces one-way delivery time from 40 minutes to only eight minutes and, said DHL, can reduce costs by up to 80% per delivery

UAVs also offer reduced energy consumption and carbon footprint compared with road transportation.

Hu Huazhi, founder and chief executive of EHang, commented: “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 realised in more areas, and we look forward to working with DHL in building the eco-system for a multi-dimensional urban air transport system.”

The EHang Falcon smart drone has eight propellers on four arms. It is designed with multiple redundant systems for full back-up capability, smart and secure flight control vertical take-off and landing, highly accurate GPS, smart flight path planning, and fully automated flight and real-time network connection and scheduling.

The drone can carry up to 5kg of cargo, and takes off and lands on what are described as ‘intelligent cabinets’ that were specifically developed for the fully autonomous loading and offloading of the cargo.

The intelligent cabinets seamlessly connect with automated processes including sorting, scanning and storage of express mail, and are in future expected to feature high-tech functions such as facial recognition and ID scanning.

A DHL Express statement considered that, “This smart drone delivery solution will enhance DHL’s delivery capabilities and create a new customer experience in the logistics sector that opens up even more opportunities for sustainable growth and greater economic contribution.”

It continued: “Given the growing prominence of B2C business operations and delivery in China, employing drones in express delivery services offers an innovative solution for meeting the increasing demands for time-sensitive delivery, particularly for last-mile delivery in urban areas.”

The integrator confirmed that it intends to continue to identify new routes that can be developed for clients in need of tailored logistics solutions, and will work closely with EHang to create a second generation of drones in the near future that will further improve capacity and range.

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