Swiss Post, Switzerland’s official postal system, plans to test package delivery by drones for the first time, employing the services of California-based Matternet, a company that specializes in drone delivery systems. The tests, scheduled for this summer in Switzerland, hope to demonstrate the feasibility of such a project to the Swiss government and explore the technical capabilities of the drones.
Switzerland is the second country to experiment with drones for its postal service. Germany’s Deutsche Post DHL ran a pilot program in late 2014 that delivered small packages of medicine to an island in the North Sea.
The drones are self-operating and can carry packages of up to 2 pounds. They have a delivery range of 12 miles on a single battery charge.
Matternet co-founder Andreas Raptopoulos said that the original impetus of the company was his realization as a student at Singularity University that one-seventh of the world’s population lacked access to roads that operated during all four seasons, which often hampered the transportation of essential medical supplies.
“In sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, 85 percent of roads are unusable in the wet season. Investments are being made, but at the current level, it’s estimated it’s going to take them 50 years to catch up,” Raptopoulos said in a TED talk in 2013.
Matternet’s mission is that drones can fill that infrastructure gap, and it has tested the delivery of medicine and diagnostics in nations like Bhutan, Papua New Guinea, and Haiti.
“Quadcopters may be the biggest invention in vehicle technology since the internal combustion engine. They allow us to build vehicles that are extremely simple mechanically and are 90 percent-plus software which is bound to improve dramatically over the next 3–5 years,” Raptopoulos told Techcrunch.
In the United States, Amazon has aspirations that drones could one day become the primary delivery method for most of its shipments, but development has been hampered by onerous regulations from the Federal Trade Commission.
Drones deployed for commercial purposes currently can’t fly in the United States at all, and the proposed rules that would take effect in 2017 require drones to operate within the line of sight of a human pilot, effectively precluding any sort of real delivery system.
The U.S. Postal Service is exploring an alternative drone delivery system, recently accepting pitches from a range of companies on the development of delivery drones that are paired with electric trucks, which double as charging stations for the drones.