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Matternet goes beyond line of sight in Zurich drone pilot

Drones will transport items between hospitals more than 3 miles apart

Matternet drones will begin flying a 3-mile route in Zurich, Switzerland, in one of the world’s largest beyond visual line of sight pilot programs. (Photo: Business Wire)

One of the keys to successfully scaling drone delivery is the ability to fly drones beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS).

In Zurich, drone delivery system provider Matternet has taken an important step in doing just that. The company announced Monday it will begin testing drone delivery with a 5-kilometer radius (about 3.1 miles).

While BVLOS is operational in several countries, including the U.S., Matternet said the 5 km pilot program is the largest of its kind over a major city, where sight lines are smaller, in the world. The drones will be used to transport diagnostic samples between the Triemli and Waid Hospitals — both a part of Stadspital Zurich, a municipal central hospital owned by the city.

“Launching this new service for Stadspital Zurich is an important moment for Matternet but also for the future of both health care and logistics services,” said Andreas Raptopoulos, founder and CEO of Matternet. “Leveraging the longest urban BVLOS route to transport biological samples for diagnostic testing on-demand changes the way that hospitals and hospital systems can approach patient care, all while creating new efficiencies that can improve patient experiences and ensure that they keep pace with the demands of the 21st century.”

This summer, Zipline received a Part 135 air carrier certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that will allow it to fly the longest-range commercial drone deliveries in the U.S. Its deliveries cover up to 26 miles round trip out of its hub in Kannapolis, North Carolina.

Matternet, based in Mountain View, California, in November became the first drone operator to receive an FAA production certificate, less than three months after the firm obtained type certification. The company is now the only drone delivery provider with both type and production certificates.

The firm has been delivering health and wellness products with UPS under an FAA exemption called Section 44807, which allows it to produce non-type-certified drones at nonproduction-certified facilities. However, that exemption is set to expire at the end of September 2023.

Matternet’s M2 drone boasts a payload capacity of just under 4.5 pounds and a maximum range of over 12 miles. The company said the pilot in Zurich will ensure delivery of critical medical shipments between the two hospitals in just seven minutes. Currently, the hospitals transport items on the ground, usually in larger batches that lead to delays as a courier waits for more items.

“Switzerland has established itself as one of the most advanced countries in the world for scaled drone delivery operations,” Raptopoulos said. “And this new route in Zurich — built on the foundation of five years of successful operations in Switzerland — will help us create insights into developing a citywide medical network that can become a template for similar networks in Europe, the U.S. and beyond.”

In a recent interview with Modern Shipper, Raptopoulos detailed Matternet’s system.

The company’s delivery system consists of the M2 drone, the Matternet Cloud Platform and the Matternet Station. The Cloud Platform handles customer requests, generates routes and monitors, commands and controls every asset in the network. The Matternet Station is the company’s hub for sending and receiving packages and responsible for automated battery and payload swapping.

The combined system, Raptopoulos said, makes Matternet’s service ideal for health-related deliveries, which is where the company has placed the vast majority of its focus.

“There are certain mission-critical logistics jobs that need to get done for health care systems around the movement of urgent biological samples, around the movement of certain types of medicines that need to be urgently administered, around the use of blood units,” he said.

Click for more articles by Brian Straight.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected]