Swiss Post revealed last year that it had teamed up with California's Matternet to trial delivery drones, at the same time noting that it didn't expect any widespread use for around five years. We're not there yet, but things are moving along just nicely, with the Swiss aviation authority giving the green light for Matternet's drones to ferry laboratory samples between two hospitals in the city of Lugano.
Swiss Post and Matternet have been conducting trials between two hospitals in the southern city since mid-March, in which time they have completed around 70 autonomous flights. Matternet's drones are optimized to carry lighter loads of up to 2 kg (4.4 lb), can travel up to 20 km away (12 mi) at a top speed of 36 km/h (22 mph) and are equipped with parachutes for use in the event of failure.
Switzerland's Federal Office for Civil Aviation has been on hand since the testing began and is evidently satisfied with the safety of the transport method, now granting approval for the flights. This is significant, because it will involve flying over populated areas where there is an inherent risk to the public should something go awry.
Last October we saw US robotics firm Zipline launch its drone delivery service in Rwanda, carrying blood largely over rural areas. We have seen drone deliveries take place in urban areas, including efforts from Domino's and 7-Eleven, but these remain part of ongoing trials.
With approval from the appropriate authorities, Swiss Post, on the other hand, will make drone deliveries an everyday occurrence. That's assuming everything goes according to plan. There is still some final testing to play out up until April 4, followed by another month of testing midway through the year. If everything meets strict requirements, it is expected that the drones will be regularly transporting goods between the two hospitals in 2018.
Hospital staff will be able to load up the drone with samples and launch it via a smartphone app. The drone will then fly autonomously following a predefined route, where workers will unload it at the other end, with infrared signals used to mark the take-off and landing points. These samples are currently transported by road, and the airborne approach will make the process faster and therefore improve care for the hospitals' patients.
The short video below provides an overview of the project.
Source: Swiss Post