Sunday 14 April 2019

Swiss Post’s drone delivery to focus on urgent consignments

05.04.2019 - Swiss Post has started transporting special medical consignments throughout Switzerland using drones and has thus become the country’s pioneer in commercial autonomous drone deliveries. UPU talked to Janick Mischler and Andrea Marrazzo, Heads of Autonomous Delivery & IoT at Swiss Post, to discover more about this cutting-edge technology.

Q: Where do Swiss Post’s drones fly and what do they deliver?
A: Our drones transport laboratory samples, which are special and urgent medical consignments. Currently, our customers are hospitals and laboratories in the Swiss cities of Zurich and Lugano. The healthcare sector is particularly well suited for this type of logistics because speed can be a decisive factor in the treatment of patients. Accordingly, there is a great need for efficient solutions for priority shipments. Swiss Post has launched this project under the name: early Label, which is a number of innovative products and services that the operator tests and develops together with its customers.
Q: Why are such deliveries beneficial and important?
A: Drones can be used in many ways in logistics but they have become particularly important in last mile priority deliveries. Compared to regular courier deliveries by road, drones travel faster, they are more environmentally friendly and cannot be affected by any traffic situations. For example, a car drive lasting 45 minutes becomes a drone flight of just a few minutes. Fast deliveries of priority healthcare consignments, for example, blood samples, save valuable time for our customers and can be crucially important for their patients. The predictability of such deliveries is also beneficial for the hospital staff because they know exactly when to expect the drones.

Q: Since the launch of drone deliveries, has Swiss Post faced any challenges with their implementation?
A: The launch of the first commercial autonomous drone deliveries in the country entails a great deal of responsibility. That is why Swiss Post and the Swiss drone manufacturer Matternet have been facing different challenges since the start of this project in 2015. Our first task was to clarify the regulatory legislative conditions and to examine the technology in detail. Now we have taken a big step forward and are dealing with other questions, for example how the drone can meet our customers’ needs and fit in optimally with their everyday work processes. To date, Swiss Post has already successfully completed more than 3,000 drone flights. However, on 25 January 2019, a controlled emergency landing of a drone took place in the basin of Lake Zurich. The planned security measures took effect, the parachute was triggered and a warning signal drew attention to the drone floating down. Security is the top priority for Swiss Post. Therefore, it has been decided to suspend drone deliveries throughout the country as a voluntary precaution until the reason is established. With drone logistics in Switzerland, Swiss Post is more advanced than other companies, and today we are dealing with issues that no other company of this size has ever experienced.

Q: What future developments of drone deliveries does Swiss Post see?
A: The use of drones will not go beyond its niche market in the near future. They are primarily suitable for the transport of urgent consignments, especially to places that are hard to access.  Swiss Post delivers 130 million parcels each year, the nationwide use of drones would not be expedient. This means that drones will complement traditional parcel delivery where required in the future, but they will not replace it.

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