As the popularity of drones skyrockets and the technology advances, more and more companies are looking at how they might be able to use them in their business. Amazon’s efforts, for example, have been well documented, though strict Federal Aviation Administration rules mean work on Jeff Bezos’s Prime Air plan is moving forward at a frustratingly slow pace.
Swiss Post, on the other hand, has just launched a trial run of its own delivery-by-drone service to test the viability of using the flying machines for the speedy delivery of important consignments such as medicines or for taking urgent supplies to people in areas cut off by natural disasters or similar catastrophic events.
To create its service, the Swiss company has partnered with California-based drone manufacturer Matternet, and also WorldCargo, the air freight division of Swiss International Air Lines.
The trial is using Matternet’s “One” vehicle, touted as a light, simple-to-operate machine specially designed for transporting small packages. Each is capable of carrying a load of up to 2.2 pounds (1 kg) across a distance of around 12.4 miles (20 km).
The quadcopter is able to fly autonomously, “following clearly defined, secure flight paths, which are drawn up by cloud software developed by Matternet,” Swiss Post says on its website.
Although the launch of the trial is a major step forward for Swiss Post’s ambitions to use drones in its work, it admits a full-blown service could be some five years away, citing technical challenges such as limited battery life as an area of concern.
Regulatory hurdles must also be overcome, an issue Amazon and others are currently grappling with in the U.S.
While Matternet’s drone is able to fly autonomously beyond line of sight, regulatory bodies in many countries are still nervous about giving the green light to such flights on safety grounds
However, software and monitoring systems governing autonomous quadcopter flights are advancing all the time, meaning the day you open your front door to a flying machine with a special delivery may not be so far away after all.