Emqopter Operating ‘First Urban Delivery Drone’ in Germany

Emqopter is a Wurzburg-based drone-technology supplier that says it is operating the first-ever drone-based urban delivery system, in Bad Neustadt, Germany. Marvin Bihl, Emqopter General Manager Finance, told Inside Unmanned Systems, “This is a system we developed for a customer who has two separate plants, about 700 meters apart from each other, with streets, buildings and other things in between. Originally, they were using a car to transport small items from one site to the other, which took them up to 15 minutes. With our system, which began operating in August, the same delivery takes five minutes, and they say this saves them 20 percent in costs.”

Bihl is not allowed to say who the client is. “It’s an automotive company and they are highly competitive, so any information about their processes is confidential. As far as we know, it is still the only system which is operating this kind of delivery service in German unregulated airspace,” he said.

Emqopter does not make drones but provides technology systems, Bihl explained. The system in question is an octocopter weighing 9 kilograms when empty, set up to carry a 2 kilogram payload, as per the client’s specification. The system is capable of fully autonomous flight, but here there is an operator, who loads the payload box and gives the drone permission to take off. The drone uses onboard GNSS to navigate via waypoint. At the destination site a second operator signals clear for landing and receives the payload.

And it’s all legal, Bihl said. “The operators have to watch the drone at all times. They are not allowed to send it and then go away. In Germany, there is national regulation which says drones heavier than 5 kilograms have to be approved by our federal aviation administration [nearly every drone used in an industrialized context is heavier than 5 kg].

“This drone fulfills the second highest SORA risk-level requirements,” said Bihl, “because we are flying over a three-lane road, railroad tracks, another company’s industrial plant, as well as pedestrians and bike paths.”

The ice is broken.