Thursday, August 25, 2016

SWITZERLAND Test Drives Ground Mail DRONES

It’s a drone and auto-driving crazy world nowadays. Everybody and their mother is really trying to push the envelope in developing new uses for remote operated drones like flying medical supplies in rugged Rwanda. Over in Switzerland, their national postal service has been making its own inroads towards their own remote operated network for deliveries. But airborne drones to them are like a dime a dozen now, so Swiss Post has decided to try out a different means of drone locomotion. Think little van-like cars with cargo space travelling along city sidewalks.

Starting September according to CNN, Swiss Post is fielding robot ground drones in three cities for postal deliveries in kind, such as food and medicines, carrying enough freight to add up to a 30-kilo total weight. Designed and built by Starship Technologies which was started by Skype’s co-founders, these robots are shaped like pods with six wheels and an antenna for remote operation and tracking.

Cameras enable operators at the post office to see where a delivery drone is going. They move slowly along the ground at an autonomous setting about 99% percent of the time, able to maneuver around obstacles like pedestrian legs, they’re out on delivery, but they can be manually overridden by operators just in case.

Claudia Pleischer, Head of Development and Innovation for Swiss Post, stresses the need for even a postal service like theirs to keep up with the latest advances in tech and trends, hence the trial run for their proposed fleet of postal robots.

For the September test run, the drones will carry only dummy parcels and set to perform local deliveries within a 5-kilometer radius of a post office hub. The three locations for the trial include the Swiss capital of Bern and the towns of Biberist (Soloturn) and Köniz (Bern). These will be the latest locales where Starship Technologies has brought their products out to play. They have already held similar trial runs for the drones in both Germany and the United Kingdom.

Pleischer also reassures people who are weary of an eventual full automation in Swiss postal deliveries, saying that the mail-bots are not a complete substitute for human beings delivering the mail. As she tells Swiss news website The Local, “We will keep needing the postmen, it’s not a substitute, but it’s a complementary way of delivering things that today we do not have in our offering.”

While the test drones are going through sidewalks in the test period they will be shadowed by Swiss Post handlers, who will take note of the machines’ performance in their deliveries, along with the general reaction of passersby to the drones moving around and between their feet. 

Washington, DC will be the next city to test out the mail delivery drones in the fall.

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