Autonomous drones are now delivering coffee over Switzerland

The delivery drones are coming, and they're bearing coffee. 

If you happened to look at the sky over Zurich, Switzerland on Wednesday, you might have seen a drone fly over the city and deliver a hot cup of java onto the roof of a parked Mercedes-Benz van.

As TechCrunch reports, the occasion marks the first successful delivery for Matternet, a logistics company focused on drones. For the next three weeks Mattenet will be shuttling coffee by local e-commerce company Siroop over Switzerland’s largest city.

It’s not exactly a door-to-door type thing, which means humans aren’t quite out of the equation yet. The vans, provided by Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler, serve as helicopter landing pads of sorts for the drones. The drones fly autonomously for the most part, but the specially made vans guide them in through GPS for greater precision on the last stretches of the journey.

Once they land on the van’s roof, a person handles the actual delivery of the coffee to the door. It sounds a little over-complicated as a result, but the approach may still work out to be much faster than normal delivery since the drone can skip all the intersections and traffic jams below.

Specifically, the drones Matternet uses are designed to carry impressive hefty payloads of up to 4.5 pounds at around 260 feet in the air at roughly 43 miles per hour. The range is nice, too, as they can deliver the coffee as far away as 12 miles. 

It’s not even that complicated of a service to use, as you’ll place an order with an app much as you will for Starbucks or Taco Bell. The difference, of course, is that the drone brings the items to you (or the van, at any rate), following a set of coordinates on a QR code that was generated with the order.

We now know that the concept works in practice, and the three-week trial will now prove whether it’s still a cost-effective approach to delivery.

There are numerous complications involved, such as the need to drivers parked at four locations around the city, as well as variable factors such as the weather.

At the very least, the remaining human element of the approach rids customers of the need to awkwardly remove their packages from a drone that landed on their doorsteps. 

In time, Matternet and Mercedes-Benz would like to see this system in place around the world. The next several days will prove if that’s truly possible, but Matternet’s success yesterday proves our drone-delivery future may come sooner than we could have imagined.