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Zurich pilot project Unmanned couriers take to the air

Drohne über dem Zürichsee

The drones are able to detect obstacles and fly around them.

(Keystone)

A drone developer and a car manufacturer have teamed up to deliver products to customers faster, using a Zurich-based online marketplace as a platform for the pilot project. The airborne courier system made its debut on Thursday – with a delivery of coffee from Ebmatingen to Zollikon.

Mercedes-Benz Vans, US-based drone start-up Matternet, and the Swiss online marketplace siroop launched the pilot project for deliveries by van and drone in Zurich. Customers will be able to use the system to receive selected products from siroop for around three weeks.

Products must weigh a maximum of two kilograms and be suitable for transport by drone. The seller equips the drones directly after receiving the order. The drones then fly to one of two Mercedes-Benz vans equipped with an integrated drone landing platform. For the final leg of the exchange, the driver picks up the parcel and brings it to the customer’s door.

The aim is to help speed up delivery of dry goods in densely populated areas like Zurich, by taking advantage of air space and avoiding street-level congestion. According to the Associated Press, the pilot projects have received approval from Switzerland's aviation authority. 

Hospital deliveries

Next month, California-based start-up Matternet will also debut a network of autonomous drones in Switzerland. These devices will be used, in partnership with the Swiss Post, to deliver medical supplies — such as blood tests — between hospitals within 30 minutes. 

Two hospitals in Lugano have been testing the system since March of this year by using it to exchange lab samples. According to the Swiss Post, the project marked the first time drones had ever been used to make commercial deliveries in an urban area. Matternet hopes to be able to offer permanent, regular service to Swiss hospitals via the network starting in early 2018.

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