Drones Delivering Lab Samples Offer Much Potential for City Logistics

After three years, researchers of the Institute for Enterprise Systems (InES) of the University of Mannheim and six other project partners have successfully completed the “mobil-e-Hub” project. At the closing event, which took place in Heidelberg last week, they showed how a drone can automatically deliver a parcel.

Hospitals often have to send blood or tissue samples to laboratories multiple times a day in a critical time frame. Last week in Heidelberg, researchers of the University of Mannheim and project partners from six other companies and institutes showed how such a process can be optimized using artificial intelligence: A drone picked up samples from the hospital St. Joseph in Heidelberg, put it down on the top of an electric bus, down to a millimeter, and the bus delivered it automatically to the laboratory.

“Artificial intelligence is playing a very important role in modern delivery systems,” the managing director of the Institute for Enterprise Systems, Dr. Christian Bartelt, explains. His research group “AI Systems Engineering” had the goal to integrate the parcel logistics of autonomous delivery drones dynamically into existing public transport. In order to navigate parcels within existing public transport and coordinate the individual, independent transport users, the researchers of the Institute for Enterprise Systems developed AI algorithms which can predict the routes public transport vehicles take at certain times at certain days of the week. The developed drone can then put parcels on the roof of public transport vehicles.

For the project, the system’s autonomy was crucial: It is no longer the driver of an electric vehicle who decides how the parcel is delivered from A to B but the parcel itself searches for the best way. The parcel will then order the next vehicle and a drone to get picked up. In addition to the vehicles’ navigation and drones of independent mobility companies, the functional security of the autonomous drones was a second research focus of the research team at the University of Mannheim.

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action funded the project with approx. 3.5 million euros in total, the Institute for Enterprise Systems received more than 683,000 euros.

Click here to see a video of the subproject (in German).