Commercial delivery drone systems developer Matternet says it has begun trials on an aerial transport route in Switzerland connecting participating hospitals and labs in what it says will be the world’s longest urban network thus far.
Mountain View, California-based Matternet said the five-kilometer drone delivery path over Zurich will transport patient diagnostic samples between labs and the Triemli and Waid Hospitals, both of which are part of the municipal Stadspital Zürich system. Those automated UAV shuttles will be conducted as beyond visual line of sight flights (BVLOS), and seek to both increase the frequency of sample exchanges between clinics, and decrease the time required to make those journeys.
Matternet said the length of the routes involved, which will be flown in just seven minutes, make the new medical network the world’s longest drone delivery operation over an urban zone.
Similar to most hospital systems in big cities, Stadspital Zürich and its units currently rely on ground transport that slow the exchange of lab samples down in two ways. First, vans must wait for enough of the testing material to be collected to make a run across town worthwhile. Once that happens, those vehicles must often navigate heavy traffic that make journeys a time-consuming slog.
Matternet says the use of its drones to deliver those medical payloads permits an increased cadence of transport, while avoiding all the jams and polluting emissions down on the roads.
“Launching this new service for Stadspital Zürich is an important moment for Matternet, but also for the future of both health care and logistics services,” said Andreas Raptopoulos, Matternet CEO. “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.”
The increased rhythm of lab samples will also have the virtue of allowing staff taking reception to work at more regular rates, and avoid the pressure of having to deal quickly with larger batches arriving less often. That means smoother processing of routine results for doctors to use in patient treatment, while also creating the option for far speedier and more affordable on-demand transportation of individual samples in urgent situations.
The project is a new phase of activity for Matternet in Switzerland, where in 2017 the company became the first to fly commercial BVLOS drone delivery flights over urban areas as part of its multi-year trial with the nation’s postal system. The country’s activist attitude toward UAV operation, Raptopoulos said, means its project in Zurich likely won’t be its last.
“Switzerland has established itself as one of the most advanced countries in the world for scaled drone delivery operations,” added Raptopoulos. “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 city-wide medical network that can become a template for similar networks in the Europe, the US, and beyond.”