CNET reports on a cool proof of concept--delivering life-saving drugs by UAV in parts of Africa where road are poot. I've advised that team that fixed wing UAVs might be a better choice for those distances, but they're keen on totally automated delivery and return:

 

"At the graduation ceremony of the Singularity University this week, I was introduced to another real-world, save-the-world company that's applying quadcopter technology: Matternet.

 

This particular class of S.U. was focused on solving problems for "the next billion people," those without access to modern technology. Matternet tackled the problem of getting drugs and diagnostic or test materials to people in rural areas in developing countries that don't have access to passable roads during rainy seasons.

 

The company proposed building a network of robotic drones to deliver medication quickly and very cost-effectively--even less than a guy on a dirt bike costs.

Matternet team leader Andreas Raptopoulos told me the nominal range of his quadcopters is 10 kilometers when carrying a 2-kilogram load (range changes with load). Landing pads act as beacons to augment GPS and guide the copters to precise landings.

 

While the company is building its prototype business around quadcopters, Raptopolous told me Matternet is platform-agnostic. That makes sense, since fixed-wing drones would be faster and have much greater range (but they couldn't land as precisely).

 

In phase two of the company's rollout, it plans to add automated recharging stations to its networks, both to improve turnaround time and reliability, and to allow the installation of way stations that could swap or recharge batteries automatically to extend the range of the copters.

 

The business is straightforward: Matternet will charge aid companies for delivery services. Currently, Raptopolous says, the Dominican Republic is financing a pilot project for the company.


The Matternet quadcopters are based on open-source technology from DIY Drones. The automatic control systems and flight programming tools are well-developed, Raptopolous says. The flying vehicles themselves are custom built, for robustness. They should cost a few hundred dollars each.

Almost all the demos at the Singularity event were for real-world and really clever products, but this one flipped the most switches for me. Matternet is trying to create, essentially, a modern, long-distance version of the pneumatic tubes that hospitals use to shuttle samples and papers around. That technology is just as out there, when you think about it, as building giant Habitrails into buildings must have seemed at the time. But look how pervasive it became.

I'm also fascinated that this autonomous-helicopter form factor (four rotors, each with its own motor, on a platform about 3 feet across) is becoming a standard development platform for low-cost flying bots. I wonder where we'll see these things pop up next.

Views: 4192

Comment by Stephen Carlson on August 27, 2011 at 12:39pm

Why not a hybrid? Some examples:

IAI Mini-Panther:

 

Video:

 

My own Tricopter Hybrid Design: (still in progress)

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Comment by Mike on August 27, 2011 at 2:19pm

If the idea is so marvelous why don't they finance it themselves?

 

I put this in the same file as the people who wanted to export horses from America to Africa as aid....

Comment by Steve on August 27, 2011 at 3:05pm
That panther is awesome!
Comment by Andrew Rabbitt on August 27, 2011 at 11:58pm

I always wonder why an unmanned VTOL aircraft will need to use the tilt-rotor idea.  This is just a failure of imagination on the part of designers.  A few days ago, the Wright way of doing it (bad pun intended...) was demonstrated here:  http://www.diydrones.com/profiles/blogs/quadshot-open-source-aircra...

Comment by Toby Mills on August 28, 2011 at 12:23am
Why not flag the landing pads and instead put a small solar panel onboard. The craft flies as far as it can then lands and recharges. One it's charged it takes off again and flies as far as it can. This would give more payload and destination flexibility and save on infrastructure costs.

Developer
Comment by John Arne Birkeland on August 28, 2011 at 6:57am
In my eyes using multi-copter for long distance flights is a bad idea. They are basically flying bricks with no aerodynamic efficiency. A fixed-wing UAV with a drop chute deployment system would be the easiest and safest bet.
If the system much be able to VTOL I agree with Andrew. There is no need to use tilt rotors when it is easier to just transit the whole frame from flying to hovering. Hovering a fixed-wing aircraft is more stable then performing a multi-copter balancing act. In fact as you all know 3D fixed-wing R/C pilots does this all the time without the help of gyros.
I would look into the Convair XFY as an example of a working full scale VTOL design.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convair_XFY
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nh9dhBJY010

Developer
Comment by Jani Hirvinen on August 28, 2011 at 9:43am

It is nice to see our work to be used for common good. Makes me proud to know that it left from here :)


Developer
Comment by Max Levine on August 30, 2011 at 7:46am
All that sounds very nice, but please go and read the Business Model of Matternet http://matternet.net/?p=206 :(
and take a look at the video they have there,don't know why, but it makes me disappointed...
If someone want to save the world, he should just go and do it, and not create another corporation "Saving the world solutions" "tool-kit to make the world a better place" for $2500.

I'll be glad, to be wrong :)

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