Back in March, logistics company Matternet was granted permission to launch a drone delivery service over populated areas in Switzerland. Now, with the unveiling of the Matternet Station, the final piece of the puzzle is in place.
Getting packages from one place to another isn’t the main challenge facing prospective commercial drone delivery services. The question is how to integrate those services into our everyday lives, in ways that don’t make sending or receiving a parcel more complicated or even more dangerous than it needs to be. Menlo Park, California-based logistics company Matternet appears to be on the verge of solving that problem.
Observers of Amazon’s progress will have noticed countless patents detailing systems made up of futuristic warehouses, delivery hives and parachutes. To begin with, Matternet has set its sights a little lower. Instead of dropping parcels on your doorstep, the focus is on the urban transportation of medical supplies. This is enabled by Matternet’s own docking stations.
On-demand courier services
The aim of the Matternet Station is to be a hub for autonomous urban drone deliveries. Instead of attempting to navigate the complexities of a door to door service, the station enables customers to send a package from one place to another within the logistics network.
The first Matternet Stations will service hospitals and medical centers in Switzerland, automating the on-demand transportation of blood and pathology samples between facilities. The network in Switzerland will allow samples and supplies to be received by hospitals within 30 minutes.
The Matternet Station is seen as the final piece of the jigsaw in Matternet’s drone logistics network. Together with the company’s autonomous M2 Drone and the Matternet Cloud platform, users now have everything they need to send and receive packages.
The Matternet Station is small enough to be seen as nothing more than a futuristic mailbox. It covers two square meters and can be installed on the ground or on rooftops. The base station has been designed to simplify the delivery process. Interactions with it are more in line with what you might expect from a vending machine than a logistics hub.
The Matternet Station is equipped with technology that guides the M2 Drone to a precise landing point on the station’s platform. After landing, the drone is locked in place, its battery is swapped and its payload is removed. The package can be taken from the station when the user scans the correct QR code with a smartphone. The sending process is similarly straightforward.
To ensure that stations aren’t overrun with aerial congestion, each comes with an ‘automated aerial deconfliction system’ that manages drone traffic in the vicinity.
Matternet CEO, Andreas Raptopoulos, believes that the speed of Matternet’s service will have a big impact on patient care and end up saving the healthcare industry a substantial amount compared with its use of traditional couriers.
“With the Matternet Station, we’re introducing an extremely easy-to-use interface that enables true peer-to-peer drone delivery,” he said.
“For healthcare systems, an integrated Matternet network means that medical items can be delivered to any hospital facility within 30 minutes. This level of speed and predictability creates substantial opportunities for improved quality of care and operational savings.”
Medical supplies head the queue for innovation
There has been plenty of hype surrounding the prospect of autonomous delivery. It’s one of many opportunities in the drone industry to capture the imaginations of entrepreneurs. But as much as retailers are pushing for door to door services to become a reality, regulators in countries such as America are progressing with caution.
In the States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) currently restricts flights that go beyond the line of sight of the pilot and those that fly over people. That goes some way to explaining why Amazon currently tests in the UK and companies like Matternet and Flytrex have set up in Switzerland and Iceland, respectively.
Yet when lives are at stake, it’s clear that there’s less room for caution. For that reason, medical drone delivery services are leading the way around the world. Matternet can take inspiration from established services in Africa, where Zipline is delivering vital supplies to the people of Rwanda and Tanzania.