Matternet is a drone delivery startup that is getting ready to take its technology to the commercial arena. The company will soon be launching its drone delivery service across Switzerland to transport medical samples to different facilities. Matternet will be using its Matternet Station, which will handle delivery from beginning to end.
CEO of Matternet, Andreas Raptopoulos said that the company has a vision of a distributed delivery system, “a true peer-to-peer network.” Instead of operating from centralized drone airports, hospitals will have a dock to keep drones running smoothly. Right now, the practice is for third parties to move these supplies, which can be expensive and unreliable. Matternet’s delivery network will be a more direct mode of transportation.
To make this possible, Matternet has developed a drone base station with automated ground operations, making things easy and simplified for operators. The coverage is about 6 square feet and about 4 feet high and fits perfectly into many rooftops or parking lots.
Sending packages will be as easy as popping one into a bright red container, the size of a shoe box. Once the box has been scanned with a QR reader, a slot lights up and opens to take the package. The package is inserted into a Matternet drone and sent on its way.
For incoming traffic, the drone station will manage its own airspace with an “automated aerial system,” and will handle its own holding patterns for incoming drones— for the times when there are more than one arriving at the same time. It will also broadcast its location to help incoming drones land at the right spot. When drones touchdown, the base affixes it into place, exchanges its depleted batteries for a charged one and loads it with new cargo.
Once the drone takes off, it will have enough built-in logic to find a safe path to its destination. When the weather is great, the drone can travel for approximately 12 miles with about 4 pounds of cargo. In Switzerland, the delivery drones will bypass air traffic by flying in a fairly empty airspace, at the altitude regularly used only by emergency helicopters and will continually broadcast their location.
Matternet is not the only drone delivery service for medical supplies. Zipline, a Silicon Valley startup will also be transporting blood and vaccine supplies in Rwanda and Tanzania. These are African territories where infrastructure is scarce and using drones for deliveries is much more efficient than driving.
Using drones for deliveries is fast evolving. What’s special about Matternet is that while other drones flew over unpopulated areas, Matternet will be flying above populated cities. The company has secured a specialized permit from the Swiss Federal Office for Civil Aviation and has partnered with Switzerland’s postal service to test its operations in the city of Lugano this March.
By the end of 2017, it plans to start a progressive roll-out to other cities in the country. Then after that, spread out to the rest of Europe, the US, and Asia/Japan. Delivering medical supplies is a commercially viable way of using drones. As the technology progress and as operations get cheaper, more people will adopt the use of Matternet’s drones and docks.