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Swiss Post to test robot parcel service

The delivery robots join drones and autonomous buses in the list of logistics technologies that Post has been testing in recent years. © Béatrice Devènes/Swiss Post

Starting in September, the Swiss Post will send small, autonomous robots out onto city sidewalks and pedestrian zones to deliver packages in a series of tests authorised by Switzerland’s Federal Roads Office.

The tests, which will be conducted in the Swiss capital Bern as well as Köniz (Bern), and Biberist (Solothurn), are the result of a partnership with British company Starship TechnologiesExternal link.

In a statement on Tuesday, the mail service’s PostLogisticsExternal link division announced that the robots will be used to test delivery of special mailings, including packages that require flexible and rapid local delivery. They could also be used in the future for same-day and same-hour delivery of food or medicine.

Similar commercial tests were launched with partners in the UK and Germany last month.

“The addition of Swiss Post to our testing programme is an exciting development for Starship Technologies,” said COO Allan Martinson in a statement on Tuesday.

“Not only do we extend robotic delivery to Switzerland, but for the first time anywhere in the world, patients will be able to get medicines delivered to their homes using our on-demand robots.”

Smart service

The wheeled robots can transport up to 10 kilos (22 pounds) at a time, and sport nine cameras, four frontal sensors and GPS technology to help them avoid obstacles and navigate to their destinations. The cameras have another purpose as well: to help deter potential thieves.

They can travel for up to two hours or six kilometres (3.7 miles), and go about three kilometres per hour, with a maximum speed of six kilometres per hour.

The robots are also “smart”, in the sense that they “learn” during each excursion, adding to their level of autonomy.

When they reach their destination, the robots send an SMS to alert the intended recipient that their package has arrived.

During the test phase, a human companion will supervise the robots.

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Not a replacement

Dieter Bambauer, director of PostLogistics, noted that the robots are not intended to replace traditional package distribution practices. Instead, they represent Swiss Post’s desire to adapt to the evolving online shopping market, and to compete with increasing numbers of foreign logistics services.

Last year, Swiss Post also tested the use of drones to deliver small packages of goods such as medicine.

Bambauer said that thanks to the advantages of these technologies, he estimates that drone and delivery robots will be “commercialised within three to five years”.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR