Drone crashes near schoolchildren in Switzerland, postal service suspends flights

Drone crashes near schoolchildren in Switzerland, postal service suspends flights

A delivery drone crashed in Switzerland in May, less than 50 meters from a group of kindergarten children, after a rope connecting its emergency parachute was severed, according a report Monday from IEEE Spectrum.

The drone was transporting lab samples between hospitals as part of a collaboration between Swiss Post and Matternet, a California-based startup. The drones manage these deliveries quicker and more efficiently than ground transportation, and the collaboration had been ongoing for a year, with 3,000 successful flights as of January. 

A crash on January 25thfirst led Swiss Post to suspend the drone flights until April. And in that case, the drone’s emergency parachute deployed successfully. Matternet identified the problem, improved the GPS, power system, and compass on their drones, before Swiss Post resumed the flights.

In a malfunction, the drones are programmed to stop their motors, deploy a parachute, and descend to the ground while warning bystanders with emergency lights and noises. In January, this system worked as intended, with the drone landing in Lake Zurich. 

But this system failed in the May crash, which led the nation’s postal service to suspend the drone flights indefinitely. 

“Safety is our top priority. That’s why Swiss Post is now establishing an expert council. It will examine all processes relating to the risk and safety management of drone flights,” Swiss Post told BBC News.

A still unknown flight problem (possibly related to wind, according to Swiss Post) led the drone to deploy its parachute, but the connecting tether was caught on a sharp part of the drone and severed, leading to an uncontrolled crash in a wooded area less than 50 meters from a group of schoolchildren. No one was hurt, but the incident has led Swiss Post to call for a number of improvements before it considers moving forward with the collaboration. 

They’re asking Matternet to reinforce the parachute tether with metal braiding, provide a second connecting rope, and make the emergency alarm sound louder. 

According to a statement from the company:

“This is the first time we had a failure on the vehicle’s parachute system. We had never seen a failure like that in the past, neither in our expansive testing nor in commercial operations. At Matternet we take the safety of our technology and operations extremely seriously. A failure of the parachute system is a clear failure of our safely mechanisms and we are taking all the appropriate measures to address it.”

Photo by Eduardofamendes [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]