Delivery by drone: Switzerland tests it in populated areas

ZURICH (AP) — Drones will help deliver toothbrushes, deodorant and smartphones to Swiss homes this fall as part of a pilot project, the first of its kind over a densely populated area.

The drones will take items from a distribution center in the Zurich area and transport them 8 to 16 kilometers to awaiting delivery vans. The van drivers then bring the packages to homes.

Andreas Raptopoulos, the CEO of drone firm Matternet, said Thursday that the drones will speed up deliveries, buzzing over congested urban streets or natural barriers like Lake Zurich.

Matternet, which is based in Menlo Park, California, is partnering on the project with Mercedes-Benz’s vans division and Swiss e-commerce startup Siroop. It’s been approved by Switzerland’s aviation authority.

The pilot comes as Amazon, Google and Uber have also been investing in drone delivery research.

Cautious not to imitate what called the “Google Glass” experience, Raptopoulos said consumer acceptance would be critical in the pilot project, which is expected to start Friday with two drones and two vehicles.

“We want to figure out, first of all : Is the public excited about this, right?” he told reporters at a news conference at a dressed-up gas station in Zollikon, a Zurich suburb, on Thursday. “It’s the first time that an e-commerce pilot is done in a central European city.”

Executives from the three partner companies showcased the drone in action on Thursday, with a woman enacting the scene of loading up the drone with a bag of coffee that was flown several kilometers and landed smoothly on the rooftop of a Mercedes-Benz van. After high-fives at the successful flight, the coffee was then brewed up at a coffee cart at the ready and served for the several dozen attendees.

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