Are Delivery Drones Ready For Prime Time?

can be reached at meehna@gmail.com
can be reached at meehna@gmail.com
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The BBC reports that drones used by the Swiss Post have been grounded due to a failure that brought one crashing down within 50 yards of children in May.

  • Swiss Post has been using drones since 2017 to deliver lab samples between medical centers in three cities.
  • After experiencing a GPS error, a drone deployed its emergency parachute and landed in Lake Zurich in January.
  • Matternet, the company that makes the drones, claimed to have addressed the issue, but another crash in May involved the failure of the emergency system.

The drones had completed about 3,000 successful flights up until the first mishap in January. In that incident, the parachute correctly deployed and the drone floated down safely. The drones were subsequently grounded until April when Matternet had supposedly identified and corrected the GPS issue.

Swiss Post delivery drone
The grounded Matternet drones had been used to deliver lab samples since 2017. (Photo: Swiss Post)

Emergency system failure

Yet when a drone crashed again in May, not only did it fail on an operational level, but so did its emergency system. While deploying its parachute, the drone severed the line and plummeted from the sky with nothing to break its fall. Weighing about 22 pounds and flying a few hundred feet in the air, the drone clearly could have injured or killed someone.

To prevent accidents, there are strict regulations about flying over highly populated areas. Matternet pointed out that the area where the drone crashed wasn’t populated or even near a school. It was a forested area of Zurich appropriate for flying; why the children were there is unclear.

WHY THIS MATTERS

Swiss Post and its participating hospitals have found what seems to be an excellent application for drones, faster and more efficient than ground transport. With any new technology, there will always be kinks to work out, and this crash-landing near kids was an unfortunate occurrence, adding fuel to the fire of people who oppose using drones because of safety concerns.


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can be reached at meehna@gmail.com
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