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Watch Out, Amazon: DHL Tests Drug-Delivery Drone 134

Nerval's Lobster writes "Amazon is apparently not alone in its desire to use miniature drones to deliver packages. On the morning of Monday, Dec. 9, employees at the Bonn, Germany headquarters of package-delivery giant DHL challenged Amazon's plan for dominance of the skies by having medicine delivered from a local pharmacy via a mustard-yellow package-carrying helicopter the Germans dubbed 'Paketkopter.' The quad-rotored mini-drone flew a box of medicines from a launching point near the pharmacy, above traffic and across the Rhine River to DHL's headquarters just over a kilometer away. It made the flight in about two minutes, was unloaded quickly and returned to the launch team near the pharmacy. Amazon has owned total mindshare of the still-imaginary drone-based package delivery market since CEO Jeff Bezos gushed about his plans for Amazon PrimeAir during a TV interview last week. The plan generated immediate controversy due to the negative image of drones following heavy use for surveillance and targeted anti-personnel strikes by the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq. Within the United States, the FAA, FTC and a host of consumer-protection groups objected to the possibility that thousands of autonomous drones would be hovering over U.S. cities, potentially invading the privacy and endangering the lives of those who might run afoul of either cameras or rotors."
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Watch Out, Amazon: DHL Tests Drug-Delivery Drone

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  • Laugh =) (Score:5, Funny)

    by koan ( 80826 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2013 @07:37PM (#45656067)

    I have a drone that I am marketing, it specializes in robbing delivery drones.

    • Re:Laugh =) (Score:5, Informative)

      by Amorymeltzer ( 1213818 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2013 @08:11PM (#45656291)

      You may be joking, but Samy [] isn't:

      Today Amazon announced they're planning to use unmanned drones to deliver some packages to customers within five years. Cool! How fun would it be to take over drones, carrying Amazon packagesor take over any other drones, and make them my little zombie drones. Awesome.

      Using a Parrot AR.Drone 2, a Raspberry Pi, a USB battery, an Alfa AWUS036H wireless transmitter, aircrack-ng, node-ar-drone, node.js, and my SkyJack software, I developed a drone that flies around, seeks the wireless signal of any other drone in the area, forcefully disconnects the wireless connection of the true owner of the target drone, then authenticates with the target drone pretending to be its owner, then feeds commands to it and all other possessed zombie drones at my will.

      SkyJack also works when grounded as well, no drone is necessary on your end for it to work. You can simply run it from your own Linux machine/Raspberry Pi/laptop/etc and jack drones straight out of the sky.

    • If a drone crashes on my property due to malfunction/jammer/shotgun blast, does the package become my property? Its a fedral crime to tamper with found or misdelivered USPS mail, but Amazon, FedEx, DHL have no similar protections AFAIK. If through no (provable) actions of my own materials arrive on my property, can I salvage them?
    • I'm selling drone catching net guns... then excess pharmaceuticals
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I can't wait until junkies start shooting them down to get at the sweet, sweet Oxycontin inside

  • No competition from Amazon. Have we already forgotten it was a hoax? []
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by drinkypoo ( 153816 )

      No competition from Amazon. Have we already forgotten it was a hoax?

      Your link doesn't even prove that it was a publicity stunt, and here's why: its conclusions are based on false premises and it's full of fud. It's also clear why you didn't bother to link to the full article []; it doesn't say what you want it to say either.

      First FUD: "The practical issues are manifold". Yes, welcome to the real world. FUD, not a specific objection. The specific objections are then made, and they are stupid. "[...]how does it [the drone] then find the package's intended recipient?" Probably it

      • by wjcofkc ( 964165 ) []

        According to the Guardian article you linked, and that I have up there, it was a publicity stunt. You went to an awful lot of trouble to form such a long impassioned rebuttal over such a simple thing that I find it almost disturbing. Amazon is speeding up their service by building micro-warehouses all over the nation in an attempt to facilitate overnight service to all. This we know is a fact. But if you really belie
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by drinkypoo ( 153816 )

          According to the Guardian article you linked, and that I have up there, it was a publicity stunt.

          False. According to that article, it is probably a publicity stunt, and some people have said that they think so, but there is no actual proof. They in fact do not unequivocally state that it is such in the article (though quoted sources say that they are sure that it is such) which I presume is why you didn't copy and paste anything where that actually happens, instead choosing to employ prevarication by calling attention to Amazon's odious business practices. I agree that they are odious, but that does no

        • But if you really believe their is a chance that drones are going to be dropping packages off at you doorstep in under 10 - 15 years, you neither understand the logistics and you are both delusional and naive.

          Interestingly, I think the DHL demo illustrates how it would actually work: picking up packages and taking them to the local collection and distribution points. You'd have to register as a verified pick-up point first, and then just schedule your pick-ups, and the nearest unladen drone in your priority queue swings by to pick up the merchandise for shipping.

          Of course, one neat thing that COULD be done (but doesn't really fit the current model) is doing pick up AND delivery -- and patch the shipper through

        • You can already get tacos from an octorotor [], so what makes you think this model won't be scalable to delivering other goods in a decade and a half?
        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          Amazon is not into building micro-warehouses, it is shifting into the consumable market, groceries. Amazon is not an on-line sales company, Amazon is a logistics company. On-line sales is the foot into the door for it's logistics services.

          Amazon next big steps will be in the area of the farm to the kitchen. There is some real scope in there, especially if you start looking at areas of the market like no specialised dairy products, frozen vegetables and frozen meats. There is a real opportunity to Amazon

        • by TheLink ( 130905 )

          But if you really believe their is a chance that drones are going to be dropping packages off at you doorstep in under 10 - 15 years, you neither understand the logistics and you are both delusional and naive. Set down the Adderal and the Code Red. Maybe light some incense and listen to some Tibetan singing bowls or something.

          Speaking of Tibetan singing bowls and doorsteps if your doorstep is in the USA maybe not. But if Tibet is near your doorstep maybe...

          Not saying it's a good idea. Just pointing out that drones may be dropping packages off sooner than you think,

      • I think the single biggest technical hurdle will be range.. most smaller quad-copters have a range measured in minutes. There's also gusts of wind which affect some cities more than others, and even areas of cities more or less than others. I'm not saying it couldn't happen, or even be useful in some situations.. a quadcopter drone say half to a quarter the size of a typical rescue helicopter could be very useful for search/rescue operations... there are lots of uses of varying sized drones that could be
        • by wjcofkc ( 964165 )
          Shhhhh.... You making too much sense around here.
        • I wouldn't imagine they're intending to deploy this kind of service in suburbs and rural areas for a long time, if at all. They'd likely be looking at areas with a higher population density that don't have the wind issues of a city like New York. Something like the Fort Lee area in New Jersey would be an ideal location for initial deployment - very small numbers of skyscrapers (no wind issues), high population density, relatively affluent area.
        • V22 Tiltrotor drones with shrouded rotors would have better range, payload, and safety. You could still have several rotors mounted on multiple tilting wings. Wings provide lift much more efficiently than rotors do. Shrouded rotors could perhaps be made practically silent to those on the ground.

          If a few motors failed, a tiltrotor could very likely fly back home to a runway on as few as one or two rotors. If it can't fly back home, the wings would often allow it to glide to a gentle landing instead of just f

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2013 @07:43PM (#45656123) Journal
    I can see this having very niche applications for very, very, fast-expiring medical goods (like live organs or components of the Technetium99 supply chain), where vehicles with a vulnerability to traffic might not be fast enough; but aren't the vast majority of drugs either taken predictably (multi-month supplies of this or that, trivial to just mail) or pulled from on-site inventory at hospitals and pharmacies?
    • by Hartree ( 191324 )

      "like live organs or components of the Technetium99 supply chain"

      Oh heavens, just think of all the conspiracy theories about that one.

      "It was bad enough when it was just chem trails from jets. Now they're doing close air support with HIV infected livers and radioactives!"

    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      If traffic is an issue, delivery can be done by motor. At least in Europe they are allowed to swerve through traffic. This will allow them to reach almost any destination in a short time.

      Looking into quadcopters, the flight time is very limited as well as the weight they can cary. And then there is the weather.

      There might be very limited places where they could come in handy for very specific tasks, but each one I can think of has a more reliable solution, even if the multicopters never crash. And cheaper a

  • Though Amazon may benefit from its own fleet, the first users of this method ought to be postal carriers — such as, indeed, the DHL.

    While the unionized UPS and USPS may have to contend with the "replacing people with robots" nonsense first, freer companies like FedEx may complement (if not outright replace) their local delivery trucks with drones some day (hopefully — soon). Instead of "On truck for delivery" the parcel-tracking page would say "In flight to destination, ETA 3 minutes" or some such.

    I'll be happy to install a homing mat in my backyard... It will reduce traffic and pollution, quicken the delivery, and reduce theft of the items left on the easily-accessed porches (rather than the harder to access backyards).

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They'll have to find a way to smash up my package and dump it in my driveway without knocking on my door first if they're going to compete with FedEx.

      Oh wait...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Why do You think it will speed up delivery? Goods will still be moved between cities with trucks and it will not change in foreseeable future. True, drone may move more quickly than a car but do You think DHL will buy so many drones that they'll deliver all goods in 2-3 hours? Or maybe they'll use as little drones as possible to deliver goods in one day? Do they hire so many people to deliver packages in first 2-3 hours of a day now? No? Then why would they do it with drones?

      • by mi ( 197448 )

        Why do You think it will speed up delivery?

        My parcels tend to arrive very late in the day — I stare at the "On truck for delivery" status on the tracking page all day perhaps, because we live at the ending portion of the delivery trucks' routes. With drones the item should make it here hours earlier, because each round trip for a flying drone would be well under an hour — and they'd be able to buy a lot of the little drones with the money saved on trucks.

    • Assuming 3kg/package, and average truck net weight of 20,000kg (I work in shipping), that'd be 6,700 quadcopters per truck.

      Its misses the point entirely though. The use of trucks is fuel economy, ease of transportation, and economies of scale. Aerial delivery will always be a niche product because its so inefficient.

      Here's what I mean: []

      • by mi ( 197448 )

        I'm pretty sure, that chart refers to traditional fuel-powered aircraft — one with provisions for a human crew (and its safety with all the redundancies), etc. The drones discussed will be very light and, possibly, electrical (their fuel cells recharged off of cleaner and more efficient power plants). They would still pollute more per mile, but, traveling by straight line, they'll travel many fewer miles. T

        • I just had a crazy idea. Imagine a delivery truck driving down a major highway (or side road as they would probably have to be going slowly) while drones flock back and forth from the truck, picking up packages and delivering them to nearby houses. You could cover several parallel streets at once.

          • by mi ( 197448 )

            Imagine a delivery truck ...

            The first thing I imagined was a Beowulf cluster... But, yeah, a drone-carrier of sorts does seem interesting. A separate person may need to work in the truck to load the drones returning for more.

            I doubt, it will catch-on though — to fully develop such a hybrid concept will take about as long as to develop drones capable of covering the same area from the existing distribution centers.

            • I just can't imagine a lightweight electrical drone having a delivery radius of more than 2-3 miles. A moving base station would make these drones much more more efficient.

  • Forget drone-fights. The weather will keep these guys grounded. Fifteen mph winds with gusts.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Multirotors fly excellent in very high winds. I regularly fly in 25 MPH with gusts over 35 MPH and have no problem with even higher winds. The most I have flown in was right before a hurricane hit and winds were sustained 40+. No issues really. The computer compensates for the wind, it's not hard to fly.

      The Amazon idea was a hoax and stupid (with current technology) but this system DHL was testing is actually not a bad idea. Most of the flight is not over people/cars/etc and they use it to make the trip acr

  • Here they come. Order in Colorado, delivery in Florida.
  • people are stupid and will do stupid things to these copters. just wait and some idiot will tape a nice return present from their dog onto one.

    • That's what /. always says about everything. And then progress keeps right on happening anyways.
    • It's all fine until a needle falling from the sky pokes Jimmy's eye out or injects him with psychotropic medications.

      "Mommy! I found a box full of candy that fell from the sky!"

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm working on a package delivery system using a massive trebuchet on a rotating base, controlled by computers. Load the package, aim, and launch. As they approach the ground, their parachute deploys, allowing for a comfortable descent to the ground.

  • Are already serviced this way.
  • So we will have junkies taking down drones for the drugs, thieves shooting down drones for new amazon kindles, and pot heads shooting down drones for pizzas. There will be hackers trying to take down the drones just because they can and it's fun. And finally you will have Libertarians shooting down the drones because they are crazy about their privacy.
    This will never work.
  • by The Raven ( 30575 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2013 @08:10PM (#45656275) Homepage

    How many people are killed, and how much property destroyed, every year by delivery trucks? I will happily trade a few dozen dead Fifi's to take several thousand delivery trucks off the road. Luddites never learn.

    There are completely valid reasons to fear and distrust the mass use of drones by governments, and their power to suppress speech and curtail freedom. But this particular use of technology is exactly the kind of progress that saves time, money, lives, and the environment. Last-mile delivery by drone faces many hurdles, both legislative and technical, but it's a very smart goal to work towards that benefits everyone.

    I tried to find some statistics, and the best I could come up with were these two links on an 'Truck Accident Attorney' website; I don't know how accurate they are. But delivery vehicles for FedEx and UPS killed 50 people in about two years, with another ~2000 non-fatal accidents. I will guarantee that the drones will have better statistics than that.

    • Reference: [] and []

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      A quad/hex/octocopter capable of carrying 3kg is capable of killing someone with its rotors.

      You also can't really fly one across the country. So it won't replace trucks.
      The only thing these would probably replace are cycle couriers in dense cities.

      How many accidents do you think there would be if the sky was full of these things flying over busy cities, trying to avoid buildings, birds, power lines, lamp posts and other drones? I don't want to be under one one falling out of the sky with its spinning blades

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Imagine 2 ton steel vehicles hurtling through cities mere inches from unprotected human beings.

        It's far too dangerous to imagine. It could never happen.

      • How many accidents do you think there would be if the sky was full of these things flying over busy cities, trying to avoid buildings, birds, power lines, lamp posts and other drones?

        Pretty trivial to geofence an already GPS automated device. As for birds, the drones are slow enough for them to deal with appropriately by themselves.

        I don't want to be under one one falling out of the sky with its spinning blades going at 20,000rpm.

        I don't want to be under an 8 tonne truck when it's brakes fail either.

        A quadcopter with a single engine failure/broken prop falls from the sky. You need 5 or more rotors to survive a single failure.

        So use a hexacopter. None of the problems you raise are unsolvable.

  • Pffft, this will never take off..

  • I live in a flatlands. Can I have my goods delivered by PacketMole?
  • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Tuesday December 10, 2013 @08:22PM (#45656363)
    I thought that "drug delivery" [] had a very specific meaning. Does this mean that the drone is an oversized, high-tech wasp that will stick a giant needle into your ass?
    • "Yessir. But we're not going to be able to cover the cost of that particular level of service with your Prime membership. That's going to be a little extra."
  • Pull!

    (drone falls to ground)

    Hmm, another package of free drugs flying over my airspace.

  • me too
  • I think someone watched Hunger Games one too many times.
  • Is this the next advancement of IPoAC?
    Replace the pigeons with quad copters?

    • even if... it will only ever be good for UDP. at least in wires/fibre you don't have drone hunters and falcons. I'm guessing resending a bunch of lost packets could wind up expensive.
  • "A Method and Process for Using Things to Deliver Stuff Through the Air in the Skies."

  • This is a reasonable idea. The items to be delivered are small and light, and pharmacies tend to have a customer base within a few miles. Many pharmacies already deliver. This would be cheaper and faster than sending out people in cars and trucks to carry tiny packages.

    • I agree. In fact, this article reminded me of hospitals that are using carrier pigeons to transport blood samples to a lab for analysis. So why not using drones instead for this kind of tasks? The Amazon announcement may be in part a publicity stunt, but I do not think it is a hoax. This is a viable business. The only question is how much time the FAA will need to create the necessary regulation to allow it. 5 years is a relatively short time for that, but for very small drones carrying little packages (i.e
  • Out of all the stupidity that has come along with this whole "delivery by drone" concept, why hasn't anyone thought of the pizza??!! One could open a business "The Drone Calzone" and rake in the dough (pun intended).
  • Sounds neat, will they handle Silk Road deliveries next?
  • I expect remote controlled drones are already in use for illegal drugs.

  • This whole drone delivery thing is a publicity stunt.

    First off it takes a skilled operator to fly a drone. A friend of mine has learned to fly a 1/20th scale helicopter. He does it well. But he has spent a lot of time learning and he still has mishaps. With drones your delivery driver has to be a reasonably competent pilot. And don't tell me "computer control". It will be a long time before we see self flying drones.

    Second, as pointed out, a drone out of control can kill. With a truck out of control

    • When people talk about drones they're talking about quadcopters not helicopters. There's a world of difference in piloting those two and quadcopters with auto-leveling are much easier to pilot too.

  • For crying out loud, add protection rings/spheres/cages around those propellers!

  • ...drug deliveries by drone.

    Can't imagine that would motivate anyone to start shooting down drones just to see what they're carrying.

    What would it take to shoot down one of these things? Would a 1000 fps air rifle be enough?

    And no, I'm not suggesting it.

... though his invention worked superbly -- his theory was a crock of sewage from beginning to end. -- Vernor Vinge, "The Peace War"