California-based drone manufacturer, Matternet, plus DHL’s “parcelcopter” prototype unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), both plans to begin testing their airworthiness with actual payloads in the next two months.
Last year, at the CNS conference, Andreas Raptopoulos, CEO of Matternet, made a joint announcement with Oliver Evans, former chief cargo officer of Swiss International Airlines, that his company would work with Swiss WorldCargo and Swiss Post on testing the Matternet ONE drone as an automated cargo delivery system. Last summer, they executed successful tests in Switzerland.
Evans, who is now head of global business development for Matternet, said the company is now proceeding to the next stage, which “involves planning to fly further routes on behalf of customers of Swiss WorldCargo, with actual shipments on board, to prove the reliability and value of our services in addressing specific logistic challenges of the clients involved.”
He could not disclose the timing and location of the operation, but said Matternet has received certification for its vehicles from the Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA). The process of coordination with the customer, the logistic partner (Swiss WorldCargo) and the FOCA, among other authorities, is in process, Evans said.
Meanwhile, DHL’s parcelcopter concept which conducted its pilot projects last fall in Bonn and on the North Sea Island of Juist, will resume testing this week, with yet another test flight in the village of Reit im Winkl in Bavaria. This test will subject the UAV to the conditions of a mountain region, covering a distance of five miles to Winklmoosalm, one of the largest and most popular alpine winter sports destinations in Germany.
This test will include application of the fully automated loading and unloading of parcels, which will be tested in a specially modified DHL Packstation kiosk, called the “Parcelcopter Skyport.”
Like the DHL parcelcopter, the Matternet ONE, is a quad-copter design, with a centrally located payload that is easy to load and unload. The Matternet vehicle is light and strong enough to transport a payload of up to one kilogram as far as 20 kilometers on a single battery charge, and also capable of autonomous operation, following secure routes generated by Matternet’s cloud-based software. The drone is programmed to land only on landing pads set up by Matternet for the customer, which prevents it from getting lost and landing in the wrong place.
Regulations are still an issue, but, according to Evans, Switzerland has a framework in place for the approval of specific missions. “We believe that we will be able to follow similar procedures to obtain permission for operations in other European countries, and we have started the dialogue with certain customers and authorities,” Evans said. “In the United States, we are delighted that the FAA has put in place a procedure for obtaining exemptions to operate missions under specified conditions, and we are actively engaged with them alongside a number of other commercial companies.”