Autonomous Drone Delivery Trials Take Off in Switzerland

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【Summary】This project is very unique, as Menlo Park, California-based drone firm (and key participant of the ongoing trials) Matternet was issued the world’s first authorization to carry out drone delivery testing in urban locations.

Michael Cheng    Oct 06, 2017 7:25 AM PT
Autonomous Drone Delivery Trials Take Off in Switzerland

At Switzerland, driverless platforms are being pushed to their limits via drones and delivery vans. Currently, a group of research companies, which consists of drone firm Matternet, Mercedes-Benz and local e-commerce business Siroop, is testing autonomous drone deliveries in the city of Zurich. 

The trial hosted the first-ever, drone-to-van delivery using the city's logistics network. During the test, engineers launched a driverless drone carrying coffee (courtesy of Siroop) to a Mercedes-Benz van waiting patiently on an elevated platform. The UAV uses the vessel's wide roof as a landing pad, when completing deliveries.

Drone-to-Van Deliveries

Although unveiled just last month (September 25), the group has actually been working on this project since 2015. The ongoing trial is designed to run for three weeks and will serve real residents in the area. This project is very unique, as Menlo Park, California-based Matternet was issued the world's first authorization to carry out drone delivery testing in urban locations.

To facilitate drone-to-van deliveries, the establishment introduced a cutting edge delivery box for service vans. Called Matternet Station, the unit measures two square meters and attaches to the roof of commercial vessels or the ground. Catering to both incoming and outgoing deliveries, the latter option is likely designed for permanently located businesses or temporary landing sites for autonomous drones. The payloads have a weight limitation of 4.4 lbs.

"The drone locates the van via GPS. The van scans the airspace and transmits a light signal to ensure safe delivery. Only then does the drone land on the van's roof fully autonomously with the help of an infrared landing guidance beam," explained Matternet and Daimler, parent company of Mercedes-Benz.

Drone Revolution in Switzerland

Like many urban locations worldwide, Zurich is looking to drones to serve its growing population. The units will be supplementing last-mile deliveries by hovering over streets, pedestrians and city structures, over a distance of 5-10 miles.

Siroop's role in the ongoing trials is to provide a live service and platform that could benefit from autonomous drone deliveries. The e-commerce brand wants to use the technology to deliver a myriad of everyday products, such as toothbrushes and consumer electronics.

"Switzerland is at the forefront of this technological revolution — this is the first time that a drone delivery network is operating in a major European city and the first time a van and drone network is operating anywhere in the world," said Matternet founder and chief executive Andreas Raptopoulos.

On the other hand, analysts expect Matternet to apply findings from the program to other projects – specifically in the medical sector. The startup wants to focus on delivering medical supplies, lab samples and sensitive documents between emergency sites, clinics and hospitals.

According to the logistics company, autonomous drones carrying medical items will be able to complete deliveries between local hospitals in 30 minutes or less. The establishment has already formed partnerships with local clinics in Switzerland for testing. If all goes according to schedule, Matternet could launch a fully operational, autonomous drone delivery service in the country by 2018. 

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