A drone that can now defy the weather

The people of Lugano have become accustomed to seeing the Swiss Post drone in the skies. It reliably transports blood samples an average of 15 times a day, back and forth between two hospitals – and it keeps getting faster. It can now also fly in rainy weather.

The Swiss Post drone has been flying back and forth between two hospitals in Lugano for over a year, transporting lab samples a total of 2,100 times between Ospedale Civico and Ospedale Italiano. And these flights are getting quicker. It initially needed over 5 minutes, but it now takes just 2.47 minutes. “The drone has now become a firm fixture of our everyday lives”, says Luca Jelmoni with pride, director of both hospitals, whose established drone operations are a world first. The processes have become so well established that this innovative hospital director is already thinking ahead: “We run a pathology lab in Locarno”, explains Jelmoni. Specialists analyze tissue samples in this lab. “If a patient is lying on an operating table under anaesthetic and our doctors need to have a sample analyzed, we send an ambulance to Locarno”. It takes at least 40 minutes for it to arrive in Locarno – much longer if the traffic is bad, which is a long time for the patient to wait, especially since they are still under anaesthetic. It is also a long time for the team of doctors. “Having a drone do the transportation in future would save us a great deal of time. This means the patient can be kept under sedation for less time, which is safer and also more cost effective.” Luca Jelmoni also points to another key aspect: “The drone also makes ecological sense.” Today, a car is used to sample one blood sample weighing just 50 grammes. “Our way is definitely more efficient.”

The drone is part of our everyday lives here in Lugano, but we have already come up with the next vision.
Luca Jelmoni

The drone is now officially approved as “rainproof”

Up until now, a taxi would need to take to the streets when it rains. But now, the drone has received approval from the Federal Office of Civil Aviation to fly when it is raining – it meets all the conditions for safe operation.

Urs Holderegger from the Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) explains why flying in bad weather requires special approval.

“A drone flying without direct visual contact by a pilot across a populated area poses a certain level of risk to other aircraft as well as people and buildings on the ground and thus requires special approval from FOCA. An approval procedure called SORA was developed by FOCA to eliminate the risks as far as possible. This risk-based approach assesses the drone technology, how it operates, and the environment in which it is flown. The operator may need to meet additional safety measures to enable approval to be granted depending on the risks involved.”

Holderegger illustrates its implementation with an example:
“A heavy-duty agricultural drone in a remote region, spraying fields from a low height poses considerably less risk than a much lighter camera drone flying above crowds of people in heavily used airspace. This means official approval for the latter is somewhat more demanding. And if it is intended for a drone to operate in wind and rain, the provider needs to meet some additional requirements in order to be granted approval. FOCA has performed around 20 approval procedures to date in accordance with SORA.”

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