Game of drones: How airborne delivery tests are starting to take off

With Amazon given the green light to test drone deliveries, and DHL in Germany and Swiss Post also running trials, Finland is the latest country to conduct a pilotless airborne mail delivery pilot.


In a Finnish drone trial, a robotic helicopter delivers parcels to an island close to Helsinki.

Drones could soon be delivering our mail – or at least our parcels. Finland’s national postal company, Posti, has successfully tested the use of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) – in other words, a drone – for delivering online purchases.

In the recent four-day experiment in the Finnish capital Helsinki, parcels weighing under 3kg (6.6lb) were flown by a robotic helicopter between the mainland and the island of Suomenlinna, a Unesco World Heritage site 4km (2.5 miles) from the city centre.

All other mail, such as letters, to the island’s 800 or so residents take the traditional boat delivery route.

“The goal was to use real parcels to test how ready this technology is [for deliveries],” says Jukka Rosenberg, senior vice president of parcel and logistics services at Posti.

Rosenberg believes drones could offer fast deliveries and a cost-effective way to access remote areas. But the full commercialisation is some way off. While the tests ran smoothly and parcels reached their destination, the trial also revealed that limitations still remain.

One major challenge is weather, a big factor given Finland’s frequently hard winters. In the first test flight, windy conditions forced the eight-propeller helicopter drone to land outside its landing area.

Although the drone flew automatically, take-offs and landings were managed by a remote pilot for safety reasons. Part of the trial was also moved to another location in Helsinki because flying over water caused slight disturbances to radio frequencies.


Henry Sapiecha

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