Switzerland’s national mail service Swiss Post has signed up California-based drone company Matternet to assist with the delivery of laboratory samples between two hospitals.
In the last two weeks of March, 70 successful autonomous flights took place in between the Ticino EOC hospitals in the city of Lugano, near the Italian border. The packages had previously been delivered by road, but the new system is faster and more efficient, Swiss Post said in a statement.
Plans have been approved by the Federal Office for Civil Aviation (FOCA) to establish a regular delivery service for the hospitals by 2018.
While Swiss Post provides the packages, Matternet supplies the drones and the application for flight. So far, the drones have completed their flights without a pilot or anyone controlling the drones directly, though Matternet said there is always someone monitoring the flight remotely.
Internet of Business has reported on drones delivering medical supplies in rural Rwanda, but Swiss Post claims this is the first successful commercial use of drones in an urban area.
Small and lightweight for speedy delivery
The quadrocopter from Matternet is compact and lightweight. At 80 cm in diameter (without rotor blades), it specializes in the transport of light goods weighing up to two kilograms, has a maximum range of 20 kilometers and flies at an average speed of 10 meters per second (36 kilometers per hour).
The drone is launched from a landing pad via a smartphone app. The landing pad transmits an infrared signal which is used at the take-off and landing points. During its approach, the drone can detect this signal to ensure a pinpoint landing.
In the event of an emergency, the drone will deploy an in-built parachute to ensure it comes to ground safely and slowly.
In a press release, Swiss Post said: “The regular use of drones between the two hospitals will become an everyday occurrence. This is expected to be achieved by 2018. From then on, trained hospital staff will be able to load the drone independently with a safety box and launch the drone with a smartphone application. The drone will then fly autonomously along the predefined route to its destination, where the box will be received by another member of staff.”
Read more: Ocean Alliance deploys drones to gather whale data
This success puts Matternet and Swiss Post ahead of other big players in the commercial drone delivery market, such as Amazon, which to date has been unable to get permission to fly drones in built-up areas due to flight restrictions.
It’s possible that this will mark a watershed for drone deliveries in cities, but drones are not the only delivery service we can expect. The Domino’s pizza company has just partnered with autonomous robotics manufacturers, Starship Technologies, to deliver pizzas within a 1-mile radius around Domino’s stores in selected German and Dutch cities.
The deal will make use of driverless robots as well as drones to improve the speed of delivery for one of the world’s largest pizza brands.
Read more: 24-hour drone unit to assist crime-fighting in Devon and Cornwall