Matternet’s automated drone-docking station makes its real-life debut in Switzerland

No one knows how drone delivery will fit into the future of logistics, but one thing is certain: significant cargoes will not be dropped directly into someone’s yard. The flower-like structure of Matternet’s Station, an automated landing place and cargo control tower, maybe the answer, and the flower-like structure has now made the leap from render to reality at a Swiss medical center.

The Station was teased early last year, but with concept images, it’s impossible to know whether the final product would resemble anything like the concept. It’s dead-on in this case, looking for anything that looks like a prop from a 1960s sci-fi film.

The odd design serves a function, though: it provides a safe area for a cargo drone to land and swaps out its battery, safe from the elements and the types of ne’er-do-wells who might steal a medical payload from an innocent robot.

In the case of this first installation, the package will be a temperature-sensitive hardshell box containing a number of vials that would ordinarily be sent overland. These could include test samples, blood, or drugs, or anything else with a short shelf life that needs to move between facilities for any reason.

The case is removed from the craft and stored inside the Station, where it will be retrieved by someone allowed to do so – there’s a little collection door protected by the same kind of badge you’d use to get access to a restricted area at the hospital. The objective is to combine it with existing verification systems, making drone deliveries as simple as a pneumatic tube, cart, or manila envelope, but without the need for the recipient to be present in the same building.

The first Station is at the EOC Hospital Group in Lugano, but the company’s first major deployment will be in Abu Dhabi, where it will collaborate with SkyGo and the city’s health authority to develop a network of 40 Stations throughout the city. These would be used for the same basic purpose as the previous ones — reasonably light and urgent medical deliveries — but on a greater scale:

Last month, Matternet became the first drone firm to deliver Pfizer vaccine doses between locations, a feat that any hospital network or health department would love to do. Is there a rush on shots in the city? Rather than sending them away, airlift a few hundred doses from the distribution center or a neighboring clinic.

Of course, the concept of such a precious cargo landing in the courtyard or on a random roof is unthinkable, which is why the Station is required for this type of network. However, don’t hold your breath for one in your backyard.