Tuesday, July 7, Switzerland‘s postal service (Swiss Post) announced it had begun testing parcel deliveries by unmanned drones.
The project is a collaboration between Swiss Post, Swiss World Cargo (the air freight division of Swiss International Air Lines) and the California-based drone start-up Matternet, which is supplying the lightweight airborne carriers.
In a post, published yesterday on its official website, Swiss Post emphasized that the practical trials, which begin this month, will not lead to widespread adoption of the new technology any sooner than by 2020.
The announcement also implied that drones are not expected to predominate as a new delivery method, but will rather be used mostly for special cases that warrant their deployment: “The possible areas of application offered by drone technology are very diverse, ranging from delivery to peripheral areas to the express delivery of goods.“
As some sources have noticed, the snow-white drone, called Matternet ONE, looks a bit like a toilet seat with four branches extending outwards and a yellow box, bearing the postal service logo, lodged in the middle.
“The drone has an extremely light construction and is capable of transporting loads of up to 1 kilogram over more than 10 kilometres with a single battery charge.”
One of the main uses of the new drone system, hinted at in the announcement, will be to provide assistance in emergency situations:
“From today’s point of view, the use of drones in emergency situations is conceivable. This could, for example, involve bringing 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.”
The drones are designed to fly autonomously, following clearly defined flight paths, which are to be drawn up by cloud software developed by Matternet.
Until the time of their realistic commercial use in five years, Swiss Post will have to clarify a great number of requirements, which include, among other things, technological restrictions, such as limited battery life, and the regulatory framework that would apply when sending the unmanned aircraft out across the Alpine country, which is dotted with numerous remote and isolated villages where drones deliveries could be useful.
Swiss Post is not the only entity experimenting with drone delivery: Amazon is already far advanced in its own UAV system, Google is developing a disaster-zone/postal drone named Project Wing, while Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is already testing its own model since February of this year.