Today, drones are by no means mere flight-enabled prototypes for the technical capabilities of tomorrow. They are already being used in the most diverse settings and offer advantages that, just a few years ago, hardly anyone would have thought possible. The transportation of goods, in particular, sees drones come into their own: Not only are they being used to respond to increased demands in terms of logistics; these compact “aircrafts” also open up entirely new opportunities in the realm of transportation.
The boom in online trading and new concepts such as "same day delivery" or the despatch of medicines, comestible or household goods pose new challenges to logistics companies: Transportation services must be offered not just in urban conurbations, but across the country with uniform speed, flexibility and reliability. The new DHL Parcelcopter is one of the solutions aimed at bringing this about. The Parcelcopter's handover station, developed by Polygon and DHL – the Parcelcopter SkyPort – and the DHL flight device, developed in a joint partnership with RWTH Aachen University, is a prestigious project and far more than just a vision.
The previous version of the current Parcelcopter was successfully trialled as far back as 2014, being intended for the autonomous transportation of medicines from the northern German mainland to the island of Juist. In the next test stage, the concept is to be transposed to mountainous regions and supplemented by an automated loading and unloading process — a challenge for the Polygon team; it is no coincidence, incidentally, that this team ranks among the top 100 German medium-sized companies in terms of special innovative capacity and above-average innovative success, having been singled out for distinction in 2015 by the science facilitator Ranga Yogeshwar.
The challenge posed was the integration of the Parcelcopter into a fully automated goods-handover system. This involved identifying solutions that were innovative and could also be implemented in a practical setting. Only then could the various processes be automated: the Parcelcopter's pick-up during landing, the subsequent, precise positioning, the decoupling and coupling of the payload containers for the parcels, including interim storage with integrated battery charging of the payload container, as well as parcel collection and distribution to customers at the station. All processes were designed so as to be completely automated. Additionally, the extreme alpine weather conditions in the mountainous region posed a further challenge. Before being launched, the Parcelcopter had to be turned into the wind and, after landing, protected from atmospheric influences along with the landing area. Polygon drew upon commitment and fresh ideas to find the right solution to each problem and successfully overcame these challenges.
The solution offered by the experts, who already have a wealth of experience in the development of interfaces for automated logistics, combines proven procedures and sophisticated innovations. In addition to the mechanical systems, Polygon also developed the control electronics and the related software. Of course, what was also critical to the success of the project was the collaborative alliance with RWTH University, Aachen, which was marked by a spirit of partnership. Just exactly when the project is set to be deployed as an autonomous and secure package transportation service remains to be seen. But it is already serving as an example for how progressive ideas born of know-how and creativity can stand their ground in practice. Therefore, one thing is clear: If you can think it, Polygon can do it.