Malfunctioning postal delivery drone crashes and nearly hits kindergarten class

A Matternet delivery drone. Matternet

A delivery drone in Switzerland malfunctioned and nearly hit a kindergarten class in May, local authorities said.

IEEE Spectrum reports that a Matternet delivery drone used by Swiss Post deployed its emergency parachute too early, causing it to break and crash about 50 yards away from a group of kindergarten children playing in a forested area. 

The drone was a part of a pilot program that Swiss Post was testing in three Swiss cities. According to IEEE Spectrum, the service made 3,000 successful flights, until a January crash that caused the service to be put on hold temporarily. That crash involved a short circuit issue that cut off the drone’s GPS. 

“At Matternet we take the safety of our technology and operations extremely seriously,” Matternet spokeswoman Jenny Russo told Digital Trends. “A failure of the parachute system is a clear failure of our safety mechanisms, and we are taking all the appropriate measures to address it.”

Russo added that the instance in May was the first time one of the Mountain View, California-based company’s drones had a parachute system failure, and that the company designs routes that try reduce the risk of hitting something — or someone — if a drone malfunctions.

UPS partnered with Matternet back in March to begin the first commercial drone delivery service in the U.S.

Drone deliveries like those in Switzerland may not be too far off into the future for the U.S. On July 23, UPS announced its UPS Flight Forward program, which will be run in partnership with Matternet and focus on delivering medical samples.

UPS has applied for air carrier certification, which would enable the postal carrier to fly Matternet drones at night, over people, and beyond the operator’s line of sight. Drones are currently regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). 

So far, the FAA has only granted air carrier certification to Alphabet Wing, a drone delivery service run by Google’s parent company. The FAA approved Alphabet Wing in April for its pilot program that will run commercial delivery in the Blacksburg and Christiansburg areas of Virginia. 

Amazon has also made it known that it would like to use drones to deliver products bought on the site: in June, Amazon released a video of its Prime Air delivery drone. 

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