While Amazon is stuck waiting for U.S. regulators to approve commercial drone delivery, the Swiss postal service already has drones in the air. Throughout July, Swiss Post is testing drones for parcel delivery services. Together with Swiss WorldCargo (the air freight division of Swiss International Air Lines) and California-based drone manufacturer Matternet, they are exploring specific uses for drones and examining cost effectiveness.
As e-commerce becomes increasingly popular, postal services are under pressure to deliver goods faster and cheaper than ever before. In a press statement, the Swiss Post pointed out that companies like Amazon do not need to make a profit on delivery because their revenue is generated in their core business. This forces conventional delivery services to operate with tighter margins in order to keep pricing competitive. In the long run, drones are one possible solution for keeping delivery costs down or offering premium services such as same day delivery.
Swiss Post is getting started with Matternet ONE vehicles, which are unmanned drones that are specifically designed for transporting small packages. These lightweight drones can carry payloads of about two pounds. They fly autonomously, following flight paths that are mapped out by cloud-based software. One big challenge for the postal service is the drones’ limited battery life. A single charge will last just over six miles.
Additional obstacles to widespread drone use include crowded airspace and—just like in the U.S.—regulatory challenges. With this in mind, Swiss Post estimates that drones won’t be used for widespread commercial deliveries until five years from now. In the meantime, they are considering the drones for a few special circumstances. They would be used to deliver to remote areas, for certain express deliveries (such as time-sensitive lab tests), and in emergency situations, like delivering essential supplies after a storm. Swiss Post stated, “Which specific uses will prevail depends on how quickly the regulatory requirements are clarified and technical obstacles dismantled.”
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