Drones make last-mile produce deliveries at ‘the stomach of Paris’

drones last-mile delivery produce

The gigantic wholesale fresh food market serving the Paris region has gotten a taste of its tech future, thanks to a series of drone flights testing the viability of last-mile produce deliveries around the massive facility.

Situated about 15 km from central Paris, and neighboring Orly airport, the Marché International de Rungis played home to 50 trial drone delivery flights of vendor goods to far-flung parts of the compound – a preview of what organizers believe will become a regular transport option to ground vehicles. The operation was overseen by French startup DragonflyPads, which produces and provides modular, mobile vertipad alternatives to large, fixed-structure vertiports. The proof of concept effort aimed to prove the viability of fast, safe last-mile UAV deliveries of a range of perishable produce, as well as urgently needed goods.

Given France’s singular relationship and cultural association with food –  as well as the wholesale market’s rich history – it was far from certain the introduction of new-fangled tech to the Rungis menu would be welcomed. 

Rungis inherited the sobriquet “the stomach of Paris” after it was chosen in the late 1960s as the relocation spot for the increasingly dilapidated Les Halles in central Paris (now the site of the increasingly dilapidated-looking Pompidou Center). In its current incarnation, the market covers 578 acres, and hosts 1,400 different companies serving nearly 18 million end-consumers, turning $10.5 billion in business annually. That’s a lot of aubergines and boudin blancs.

Against the traditions and financial stakes involved, it was little wonder that DragonflyPads got a bit of initial fish-eye from fruit and meat vendors (not to mention seafood mongers) when the company turned up last week with its container-bound vertipad. But once onlookers witnessed the efficient last-mile drone deliveries of all sorts of Rungis produce ­– as well as champagne, a birthday cake, spare vehicle parts, and medical equipment – any lingering skepticism dissipated.

“The proof of concept conducted by DragonFlyPads in Marché de Rungis was a huge success and a real icebreaker,” the company announced on its LinkedIn page. “This was the first time a vertiport has been installed and operated in an urbanlocation. The POC was very complex as it took place at Rungis International market which is located 3 km from Orly International Airport and 15 km from Paris city center. Every day the market accommodates 20 000 trucks and more than 30 000 people.”

The all-French trials – which obtained required authorization by the nation’s civil aviation administration ­– included drone service company Pilgrim Technology piloting the flights of Unisphere and Unifly UAV. Those took off and landed from a container-housed DragonFlyPads mobile vertiport. It is just one of the many kinds of adaptable concepts the company features in exploiting “underused existing real estate infrastructures… (with) turn-key all-inclusive mobile and eco-friendly pads enabling landing, charging, servicing and storing of drones and merchandise.”

President of the group managing Rungis, Stéphane Layani, was impressed with the performance of drones in last-mile deliveries of the market’s produce.

“I am delighted with these first cargo flight tests, which suggest very interesting possibilities for last-mile logistics within the market,” he said.

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