La Poste, France’s national postal service, is developing a six-rotor drone able to deliver parcels – notably medical supplies – as far as 12 miles away to isolated parts of the country
The French post office has launched a programme to use drones to deliver parcels in all weathers up to 12 miles away.
La Poste, as France’s public postal service is called, said a series of test flights over the past three months by its subsidiary, Express Internationale GeoPost, has been a success.
The tests, conducted in collaboration with the company Atechsys at La Poste’s special test site in the Var, southern France, used a six-propeller drone able to carry loads of up to 16 inches by 12 inches by eight inches in size and weighing up to nine pounds in all weathers and terrains within a 12-mile radius.
The idea is to be able to fly the drones in remote areas or places difficult to reach by car – up very steep roads, down hillsides and areas with few roads and over water.
“We now know that we can reach isolated zones very rapidly,” said GeoPost. “It’s very interesting, notably for urgent medical needs or blood deliveries,” it said.
“The take-off phases of flight, landing and return were all automated … This test validates the approach and opens new perspectives that we could develop in the future,” the company said.
“Even if it suffers engine or electrical failure, this drone is still able to keep going whatever the weather and return to its point of departure,” Moustafa Kasbari, from Atechys told Le Parisien.
So far, successful autonomous test flights have only been conducted using a five-pound package at a range of 1,300 yards, with the drone returning to base.
These are carried out in Pourrières, Europe’s biggest civilian drone test flight site spanning more than 160 acres and catering for drones weighing up to 330 pounds.
La Poste is not the only group interested in using drones to transport goods. In September, DHL, the logistics company owned by Deutsche Poste delivered medical supplies via a “parcelcopter” to the island of Juist, 7.5 miles off Germany’s northern coast. DHL said this was the first time an unmanned aircraft had been authorised to deliver goods in Europe. It plans to run a regular service.
Amazon, Google and Facebook have all shown an interest in developing services using drones, but have come up against America’s stringent air traffic rules.
In France, drones are banned from being flown over built up areas unless the pilot is less than 100m from the device and the drone is visible. However, there is more leeway for such deliveries in remote, unpopulated areas.
The French were appalled last month when unidentified individuals flew drones over a string of nuclear power plants without being caught.
For now, La Poste said its drone project was still in an “exploratory”, if promising phase.