In an age where most of the world’s leading tech startups are clustered in Silicon Valley, there’s one innovative arena in which the United States is markedly behind: the use of drones.
As of the week of July 5–11, Switzerland’s postal service started testing the use of drones to deliver emergency supplies, geared for service when areas of the mountainous country are cut off from the rest of the world by a natural disaster.
Each of the Matternet drones, used by Swiss Post, can carry two pounds of freight.
The tests are the first-step toward integrating drones as a mainstay of the delivery system, a goal that remains implausible at the moment due to technical limitations like the strength of batteries and the management of crowded airspace.
The experiments are in part spurred by looming competition from companies like Amazon, which are pushing the frontiers of convenience with same-day—and even same-hour—delivery services.
“These players do not need to make profit in the delivery sector because it can be generated in their core business. The result is increasing pressure on the margins and cost structures of conventional parcel service providers,” reads a statement from Swiss Post.
Amazon has already pre-emptively filed a patent for an autonomous drone delivery service that toys with the idea of using GPS technology to deliver straight to customers, wherever they may be, and has also started test-runs of delivering to customers’ cars instead of their homes.
Swiss Post may have stepped up its drone game because of the threat posed by American innovation, but American companies are flagging in this area, hampered by the sluggishness of the Federal Aviation Agency, which has set a leisurely schedule for crafting commercial drone regulations.
Swiss Post said that these drone tests it’s doing today might well be a prelude to an autonomous drone delivery system, however fantastic the idea may sound today.
“Today, we may laugh about this new transport or delivery possibility the way people at the end of the 19th century laughed about the first glider operated by the pioneer of flight, Otto Lilienthal,” reads a statement by Swiss Post. “However, we are guessing that specific applications will be realistic within five to ten years.”