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France's La Poste adds its offering to UAV parcel delivery dream

Joining a succession of companies envisioning delivering parcels using unmanned air vehicles, France’s La Poste mail service claims it has successfully completed a delivery using a UAV.

Following in the footsteps of Amazon, DHL and Google, all of which are endeavouring to expand delivery operations by using UAVs to deliver small parcels, La Poste announced that through its GeoDrone project it tested the domestic delivery of a 4kg (9lb) parcel in December.

The UAV completed a delivery sequence demonstrating its ability to take-off, fly, land and drop off a parcel, then return to its starting point.

La Poste

The GeoPost Group subsidiary says it tested its programme in live trials at a Centre of Studies and Tests for Autonomous Models (CEEMA) – a partner in the project – facility in Var, France in September.

CEEMA is part of Atechsys – a company that develops UAVs ranging up to 150kg (330lb), which designed the UAV used during the testing with help from GeoPost.

The UAV has six electrical rotors and is capable of carrying a 40 x 30 x 20cm (16 x 12 x 8in) parcel weighing some 4kg over an 11nm (20km) radius. The unmanned type demonstrated transporting a 2kg package over 1.2km during the tests.

“This test validates the approach chosen by GeoPost and Atechsys, and more broadly the use of drones to access remote areas [such as] mountains, islands and rural areas,” GeoPost says. “This new technology would also respond to many emergency situations.”

The other companies that have explored using UAVs for this role have been revealing their plans over the past year.

Amazon kicked off the trend in December 2013, when chief executive Jeff Bezos announced that the online retailer was looking to enhance its Prime delivery service with the use of UAVs. The company subsequently showcased a video of a VTOL UAV that would deliver parcels to customers’ doorsteps.

In August 2014, Google introduced a fixed-wing prototype under its Project Wing effort that had been in development for two years.

Through its Google X research division, the company developed and tested the prototype in Australia, delivering first aid kits and food to rural farmers.

DHL Parcel followed last, showcasing a more tangible offering for the market as it announced in September 2014 that it would begin flying routine parcel deliveries under a test campaign in Germany.

Using the Microdrones Parcelcopter UAV, a series of tests were announced that would take place in a restricted flight area set up from the city of Norden to the island of Juist, which would allow for deliveries of supplies like medicine to the island.

The programme marks the first operation of a UAV in European airspace beyond line of sight, the company says.

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