No roads? There's a drone for that

A billion people in the world lack access to all-season roads. Could the structure of the internet provide a model for how to reach them? Andreas Raptopoulos of Matternet thinks so. He introduces a new type of transportation system that uses electric autonomous flying machines to deliver medicine, food, goods and supplies wherever they are needed.


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  • Thanks for that comment, Adam. You're tuned in, and clearly come a solid technical background. You've inferred a requirement from a graphic that depicted a vision of what Matternet could look like in 10 years when we span an entire continent. We have spent 2 years doing feasibility studies (that's what the demo was about) and concluded viable business opportunity with 10km endurance. Just because a vehicle has a limited range, doesn't mean it can't traverse a longer distance. A Tesla vehicle is capable of driving from Seattle to LA today, and it isn't because of vehicle endurance.

    I can understand your skepticism. What we are endeavoring to do challenges reason and is fraught with technical obstacles. That being said, within 6 months, we will show our vehicles. Within 1 year we will show Matternet operational in some part of the world with a compelling need with vehicles that have 10km endurance.
  • I don't mean to be negative because I'm usually an optimistic person, but I just don't see the value in a system with a 10km range. 

    Not nearly enough time was put into a prefeasability study before this bloke went out to get funding, and he's been so busy trying to get funding (because funding is really hard work) that no one has spent the time researching the most effective delivery system.  The map of his network is flawed, each segment of the network is approximately 100km's.  If he had a vehicle that flew 100km's this would work.  This would be great if it worked, they should spend much more time developing a system that has a chance at decent endurance like a VTOL fixed wing hybrid.

    I've posted because I'm dissapointed that investors will put their money into a good idea, which I really want to work, but will likely fail due to fundamental flaws.  Then when another person comes along who may solve the puzzle, investors will be wary and they may not get the funding.

  • I'm Jason, and I'm from Matternet.  I'm fairly new to Matternet, as I come from aerospace developing spacecraft for landing on, and exploring, the Moon.  I'm happy to address some of the interest of the community.  Going forward, I will be contributing regular technical updates of some frequency to give the community here a sense of our developing capabilities, and perhaps attract the interest in employment of a few.

    History: We're 2 years old and have spent that time poised for the right time to go from concept to business.  Timing is everything.  FAA activity surrounding small unmanned aircraft integration has been compelling for that transition.  By the end of the year we'll have new office/lab space, a more experienced technical team, and actively be developing hardware, so I might observe that the near future will be less about what the technology could do and more about what our technology is doing.

    Field Test: We did a demonstration of what the technology could do in a place that was in need.  This flight is man operated.  The hardware is off-the-shelf, as this demo was done as a basis for establishing merit of activity.  Our hardware will look very different than the hardware in the video.  The world will see that inside of 6 months.  The observation about our flight path exhibited in this video is valid, as we would never have an autonomous vehicle fly such a trajectory.  Flight trajectories will be most likely be linear, at high altitude, and terminate in highly structured environments.

    Applications: We developed performance requirements after looking at a variety of applications--this is where 10km and 2kg payload come from.  Medical supply delivery is one of the ones we talk about a lot; transportation is the common thread.  There are many more applications we're not publicly discussing, but will do so at the appropriate time.  While operational characteristics of remote/conflict/poor regions are challenging, that is not sufficient reason to dismiss such operations as impractical.  Any problem can be addressed with the proper institution of policy and technology.  Knowing that balance is key to addressing some of the points that were brought up around inevitable theft and vandalism.

  • "If someone from Matternet is listening, talk to us, please"

    I sent an email to, asking for a response. More info about Matternet is here.

  • The problem with Matternet is that it does not seem to budge since over 3 years now. Imho, it stalls, and they could do way better. I am a bit surprised to still see people only find out now about the possibility of our little machines, but those are old news, and there seems to be no real, tangible evolution.

    Nice concept art, but isn't it nothing but an illustration of the first 3 years old video?

    What to think about the 'field test trial' video, featuring a basic drone (where is its protecting body?) obviously man operated? It would rather seem to be designed to shoot a video and fly fpv than transporting goods!

    Who would approach in automated fashion like that, buzzing through the poor village and avoiding wires at 10 meters height? Common sense would instead dictate coming in a straight line from at least 100 meters high, stopping at waypoint at this altitude, and begin descent/operations for the release of the payload. The box containing the life saver goods had to be taken out of the drone by hand on stage on the Ted talk... A modular battery system, a modular and automated payload release system, ground stations with a weather forecast and route planning integrated system? We all thought about those, but where are they now? Give them time and money?...

    Showing 10 kilometers range with 15 minutes of flight time, our average mean, even with 2Kg of payload? Is Matternet just a concept and nothing is really worked out and planned? They seem to have a great team gathered with numerous PhDs and CEOs, but do they need help from us? Why don't they reach out to us directly, we, the community? We have more specialists gathered here than any other place. I have seen here people showcasing their incredible electro-permanent magnet release mechanism, showcasing their 30 kilometers data link, testing their amazing protecting body for waterproof operations, showing stable flights characteristics in harsh weather conditions, building base stations looking like Nasa Houston Command center... Matternet technical challenges should have already been fixed, and definitely can be fixed right now.

    Crude reality distortion, their field test focused on Africa. 'No roads infrastructure, changing weather, urgent need of medications transport system for a billion people'... The cost of transportation is next to nothing they say! But the cruel problem is that the cost of life there is also, well, next to 'nothing'. We're not living in a peaceful world. People would rather highjack the '$3000 drone' - knowing that their average income per year is $300 - than let it pass. They will find a way to get something from it asap. And that is a real problem. Stations every ten kilometers, with solar panels, automated weather forecast, radio tracking? Forget about that. They will get dismantled, scrapped into pieces and sold. Not even barbwire, cameras, or guards will do the trick. Welcome to Earth, 2013. Matternet would need way more than a ten kilometers range solution. The drones will need to be more stealthy, fly at good altitudes, with no predefined routes. If someone from Matternet is listening, talk to us, please. Give us hope that you are taking that seriously. Maybe we can help.

  • By the way, Matternet is mentioned in section 3 of this article.

  • Brilliant.

    Nice to see the TED site offered links to drone-related talks, at the end of this one.

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