When we last heard about courier company DHL's Parcelcopter delivery drone, it had been delivering medication to a remote island village and a mountaintop community, both in Germany. Now, the most recent version of the aircraft has just completed a pilot project in Tanzania.
Built by German manufacturer Wingcopter and known as the Parcelcopter 4.0, the new tilt-rotor drone can take off and land vertically like a helicopter, but also transition to faster and more energy-efficient fixed-wing flight while en route. It can carry up to 6 kg (13 lb) of cargo in an insulated compartment, flying autonomously at a top speed of 150 km/h (93 mph) for a maximum distance of 100 km (62 miles) per charge of its battery pack – 45 km (28 miles) if it's carrying a full load.
In the recent six-month Deliver Future project, Parcelcopter and DHL teamed up the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (a sustainable development group), using one of the 4.0's to deliver medication from a central warehouse in the city of Mwanza, Tanzania to a hospital on Ukerewe Island in Lake Victoria. The district around the island is home to about 400,000 people.
Making up to seven autonomous flights a day, the drone was able to cover the 60-km (37-mile) distance in an average of 40 minutes cruising at 130 km/h (81 mph), accounting for factors such as headwinds, etc. After recharging its battery at the village of Nansio on the island, it would head back with cargo such as blood samples for analysis at Mwanza's Bugando Medical Center. By contrast, a truck would take approximately six hours to reach the island on 240 km (149 miles) of largely-unimproved roads, while a ferry would take about four.
All told, the Parcelcopter 4.0 successfully made over 180 take-offs and landings, flying a total of over 2,200 km (1,367 miles) and logging about 2,000 minutes of flight time. You can see it in action, in the video below.