Safety Concerns surfaced by a drone delivery crash in Switzerland

After a drone crash close to a group of kindergarten kids, Swiss Post’s drone delivery service was suspended indefinitely.

The program, which transports healthcare products such as hospital laboratory specimens and utilizes big quadcopter drones produced by U.S.-based Matternet, was introduced in 2017 and has already delivered more than 3,000 successful deliveries.

An emergency landing on Lake Zurich in January placed the delivery service on hold until April; this was discovered by the Swiss Transportation Safety Investigation Board (STSB) probable to result from a short circuit interrupting the GPS power supply, for which Matternet made changes to boost redundancy, and service was restored in April.

Following this first event, the STSB observed that the drone’s safety mechanisms worked without any interruption: the drone launched the emergency landing itself as designed in such cases. The drone is stopping its rotors and opening its parachute to do so. The drone glides down, emitting a high-pitched [sic] whistling noise and using bright blinking lights to attract attention.

But in the event of the recent crash that occurred in May— just a month after the drone delivery service began back up — Matternet’s security systems did not work as designed. A flight problem that had yet to be identified led the drone to deploy its emergency parachute two minutes after launch, but the single tether linking the parachute to the drone was caught on a sharp portion of the drone and shattered, causing an uncontrolled crash of the 22-pound quadcopter into a wooded region near Zurich University.

Swiss Post asked Matternet to introduce, as a matter of urgency, several safety mechanisms to strengthen the parachute system of its drones, on which the firm is working. Here you can find the complete declaration provided to Spectrum IEEE.

In collaboration with WakeMed hospitals in Raleigh, North Carolina, UPS is also using Matternet’s drones. Recently, the air cargo carrier announced a subsidiary firm to concentrate on medical drone delivery, called UPS Flight Forward and applied for FAA Part 135 permission to operate commercial drone delivery flights.

If authorized, during the day or night, UPS will be able to carry out revenue-generating drone delivery flights beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) that it intends to do in hospital and campus environments. UPS is not planning to provide drone shipping services shortly to regular clients.