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Drones are being used to transport lab samples between hospitals in Switzerland

We’re still a way off from the kind of Amazon Prime Air drone delivery service Jeff Bezos dreams about. But while you won’t be getting your new Game of Thrones boxset dropped from the sky any time soon, there’s a good chance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) delivery could save your life in the very near future. If you get sick and happen to live in Switzerland, that is.

That’s because Swiss Post has joined forces with drone logistics company Matternet to move lab samples between two hospitals in the city of Lugano, in southern Switzerland. The scheme has received the blessing of the Swiss Federal Office for Civil Aviation, and trials have been underway since the middle of last month — with around 70 autonomous flights racked up so far.

The drones are capable of carrying loads of up to 4.4 pounds for a distance of 12 miles at a top speed of 22 miles per hour. No, that’s not faster than a speeding car, but it does come with some major advantages.

“A big advantage is that it helps avoid traffic jams,” Nathalie Dérobert Fellay, a spokesperson for Swiss Post, told Digital Trends. “Instead of having transportation on the road, where you may be stuck in traffic for a long period of time, transportation by drone is significantly faster. It’s also better for the patient because we can run it 24 hours a day.”

At present, the project is still in its trial stages, with this first spate of testing concluding tomorrow. After that, there will be another testing phase in the middle of year, before the drone medical sample delivery service rolls out for good in 2018. Using the system, staff can load samples into the drone and then launch it into the air via a mobile app, after which it flies via a predefined route to its destination.

“This use of drones won’t extend beyond a niche market for the foreseeable future,” Dérobert Fellay said, concerning a larger scale rollout of drone delivery systems. “We think they will complement traditional parcel delivery, but not replace it.”

It certainly seems to work well in use-cases like this, however!

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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