Soon there will be a new sound in the air on Irchel Campus near the institutes of Neuroinformatics, Virology, Chemistry, Physics and Brain Research. Starting on 6 December, commercial drones from Swiss Post will be taking off and landing from the adjacent rooftop courtyard of Building Y35.
An airstrip in the courtyard
These white, fully autonomous flying vehicles will be making about five unmanned journeys every day, bringing laboratory samples from UniversityHospital Zurich on Spöndlistrasse 9 to the diagnostic lab on Irchel Campus. There the blood and saliva samples can be analyzed as quickly as possible. “Previously the samples were transported between the hospital and our lab by road. How long this took was always different depending on the traffic situation. Now with the drones, not only do we have an environmentally friendly transport method, we can also gain valuable time for doctors who rely on fast results. This is a net gain for our patients,” says Urs Fankhauser, Head of Procurement and Logistics at UZH.
The University of Zurich's new drone delivery system is part of an innovative project by Swiss Post designed to develop the commercial use of drone transport in Switzerland. The project was approved by the Federal Office of Civil Aviation for one year and will be evaluated regularly by all participants.
More than 2,000 successful flights to date
Swiss Post already has experience with drone transport in the healthcare sector. In Lugano, their autonomous flying vehicles have already successfully completed more than 2,000 flights between two local hospitals, Ospedale Italiano and Ospedale Civico. Additionally, a pilot project is currently being conducted with the Insel Hospital Group in Bern. “As a research and teaching institution, we are enthusiastic about this project. We’re convinced that the drones will do their job safely and efficiently,” says Fankhauser.
The first flights will take place on the evening of 6 December. They are expected to become part of everyday life on Irchel Campus from 10 December on.
Drone project at a glance
The transport route covers around 2.5 kilometers between Spöndlistrasse 9 (UniversityHospital Zurich) and Winterthurerstrasse 190 (UZH). This flight path has been approved by the Federal Office of Civil Aviation. It extends over a residential area and part of a forest. The drones will be flying at an altitude of around 110 meters. Flights will last approximately four minutes and will take place five to ten times every weekday between 7:30 a.m. and 4:45 p.m.
Laboratory samples as cargo
The lab samples come from UniversityHospital Zurich. They are well protected and will be transported in a special shock-resistant safety box. In the event of technical failure, a parachute will be ejected from the drone, reducing its speed. The drone will also send out a warning signal.
All technical safety measures have been approved by the Federal Office of Civil Aviation. The drones feature redundant safety systems (autopilot, altimeter, accelerometer, gyroscope and other sensors). Redundant navigation systems (GPS and GLONASS) as well as traffic data and anti-collision systems are also integrated. There are no cameras on board. Takeoff and landing will be monitored by specialists from drone manufacturer Matternet during the initial phase of the project.
An internal information event with representatives from UZH, Matternet and Swiss Post will take place on Wednesday, 19 December at 3:00 p.m. in Building Y15, Level G, Lecture Hall 60.
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