Delivery drone helps internal logistics take flight

Autonomous drone technology offers us the opportunity to save time, money and the environment. Discover how we’ve flown samples on a 25km pre-programmed route between two laboratories in just 17 minutes.

Our research center at our global headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany and analytical laboratories and production facilities in Gernsheim are 25km apart. Specialist samples often need to be transported between the two sites. And usually, these internal logistics are taken care of by truck deliveries. However, this poses a number of problems.  

One of the biggest issues with road delivery is time delays – when time-sensitive research is being carried out, waiting for sample transports which only take place at set times of day limits what’s possible. Not to mention, these regular journeys also contribute to carbon emissions and road congestion. 

That’s why, when Sylke Klein, scienctist in our Electronics business sector, met the drone manufacturers Wingcopter at our Innovation Center in Darmstadt, she knew immediately there was an opportunity to try  something totally different. 

“Wingcopter, a startup, was part of our Accelerator program at that time,” explains Klein. “Up until the time we met, they had this great technology but hadn’t found many applications for it. I immediately felt the delivery drone was the perfect solution to our internal logistics issues.” 

Wingcopter drone’s impressive speed (up to 150km/h in its fixed-wing mode), with zero carbon emissions, promised a complete step change in our internal logistics abilities. While its entirely autonomous operation offered us the option to transport samples at any time of day. 

In collaboration with Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences (Frankfurt UAS) and Wingcopter, we applied to use a specific flight route between our sites to fly a fully automated delivery drone. 

And in February 2020, the Wingcopter delivery drone successfully flew samples, the 25km distance between Gernsheim and Darmstadt, completing the flight in just 17 minutes. What’s more, the drone flew completely fully automated – only directed by a pre-programmed route and monitored via Wingopter’s groundstation software and additionally via a mobile app. This was the very first drone flight beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) at this distance in Germany.  

The successful first flight marks a milestone in the history of unmanned aviation and internal logistics. The project team hopes it will serve as a role model for similar projects throughout the world.  

This is Wingcopter in action
Watch the video to see Wingcopter transporting pre-product samples by drone between two of our sites, about 25 kilometers apart.
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