Swiss Post To Start Testing Drone Delivery

Swiss Post announced that it will soon start testing the commercial use of flying drones for delivery, in partnership with Swiss WorldCargo, the air freight division of Swiss International Air Lines, and US drone manufacturer Matternet. The three companies will be carrying out drone tests in July 2015 to investigate specific applications and cost-effectiveness of drone delivery.

There are various requirements which need to be clarified before launching commercial delivery drone operations, including of course the regulatory framework. In addition, there are technical restrictions with current drones, such as limited battery life.

A Flying Postal Service That Is Autonomous, Safe, and Speedy

Matternet DroneThe widespread use of drones is not expected within the next five years. However, drones can already be used for delivery in special cases. The focus of the Swiss Post drone tests is primarily on the use of drones in exceptional cases or the transport of special items. For example, drones can bring supplies to an area that has been cut off from the outside world following a storm. Another realistic possibility is the urgent transport of consignments with the highest priority, such as laboratory tests. Which specific uses will prevail depends on how quickly the regulatory requirements are clarified and technical obstacles dismantled.

Matternet previously tested its drones in Haiti where it delivered medicine and supplies to inaccessible areas.

The Swiss Post tests will use Matternet ONE flying drones, specially designed for transporting small deliveries and it is extremely simple to operate. The Matternet ONE drone has an extremely light construction and is capable of transporting loads of up to 1 kilogram over more than 10 kilometers with a single battery charge. Matternet ONE flies autonomously, following clearly defined, secure flight paths, which are drawn up by cloud software developed by Matternet.

After attending the Singularity University summer program at NASA Ames Laboratory, Andreas Raptopoulos founded Matternet to manufacture drones to deliver goods to the places where they are needed most. Raptopoulos and co-founder Paola Santana have raised $2.2 million in seed capital to date.

“Our product is vertically integrated into a complete transportation solution,” said Raptopoulos. “Swiss Post comes to us, we supply them all the technology (drones, landing pads, batteries, charging stations, cloud software) and they just focus on operations.” Drones could create a flying postal service that is autonomous, safe, and speedy.

“Quadcopters may be the biggest invention in vehicle technology since the internal combustion engine,” added Raptopoulos.

This platform will allow software to eat transportation.

Drone delivery is expected to become a good solution, faster and cheaper than traditional means, for delivering packages from city warehouses to customers in the city. In principle, a small drone could fly right to a customer house or apartment and deliver a parcel in the yard or through the window.

Alibaba and Amazon also plan to start drone delivery operations, respectively in China and the US.

Images from Matternet and Wikimedia Commons.

Giulio Prisco is a freelance writer specialized in science, technology, business and future studies.