Drones will be used this month to start delivering laboratory samples such as urine tests between two hospitals in canton Ticino as part of tests carried out by Swiss Post. The national post office hopes the service will be fully operational next year.
Swiss Post said in a statement on Tuesday that it plans to start a test phase from mid-March for the first commercial use of drones with the EOC hospital group in canton Ticino.
Delivery drones will carry lab samples between two EOC hospitals in Lugano – the Ospedale Italiano and the Ospedale Civico – which are located about 600 metres apart.
The aim is to use the autonomous drones to transport samples “more quickly and efficiently in the future”, Swiss Post said. It hopes drones could be in regular use between the two hospitals from 2018.
“The samples will be mostly liquids and urine samples used for testing,” explained Swiss Post spokesman Olivier Flüeler.
The Federal Office of Civil Aviation is due to inspect the drones and the first test flights this month before granting the necessary authorisations. The drones must prove that they meet strict safety, practicality and reliability requirements.
Swiss Post first tested the use of drones in 2015 together with Californian manufacturer Matternet, a firm primarily focused on developing airborne options for health care in developing countries. Other countries such as Germany and France have also recently carried out similar drone delivery tests.
Not a replacement
With this project, Swiss Post is following in the footsteps of Amazon, which is already considering delivering packages by drone and has received the green light to test delivery flights in the US.
In December, Amazon successfully completed its first drone delivery as part of its Prime Air initiative. The package was delivered to a customer in the Cambridge area of Britain on December 7, making it to the person’s house just 13 minutes after the order was placed.
Swiss Post has also started experimenting with other futuristic delivery methods. In September 2016 it sent small, autonomous robots out onto city pavements and pedestrian zones to deliver packages in a series of tests authorised by Switzerland’s Federal Roads Office. The tests, conducted in the Swiss capital Bern as well as Köniz (Bern) and Biberist (Solothurn), are the result of a partnership with British company Starship Technologies.
Swiss Post said the robots were designed to deliver 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 Britain and Germany last year.
Swiss Post insists 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.