“Imagine if we can deliver the medicine within hours or even minutes with a small autonomous flying device,” said Matternet CEO and founder Andreas Raptopoulos at last year’s PopTech conference, “The key here is the autonomy of the solution, there are no humans involved.”
In places like Haiti or Lesotho, in Africa, large parts of the population live in areas that are not served by usable roads, isolated from cities and essential infrastructures like hospitals. Building roads so that trucks can reach them can be expensive. Why not use small, flying robots to bring them what they need? The idea is to create a network of base stations to blanket an area and then use GPS-guided drones to fly around and deliver the supplies.
According to a case study Matternet did last year, building 50 base stations equipped with 150drones would cost $900,000. Each flight would cost $0.24. The startup has conducted trials in the Dominican Republic and in Haiti, where it used drones to to deliver supplies in Haiti last year.
Although this network of drones sounds great on paper, there are numerous challenges to actually deploy it effectively. Cost is the first. Even though the drones are autonomous, Matternet will probably need to put personnel in the base stations to load the drones and make sure everything is running smoothly. And there are safety issues, too. The UAVs will sometimes fly in areas where aircrafts or helicopters fly as well, so there needs to be a system to avoid collisions.
To know more about this project, check out the video above.