Andreas Raptopoulos, CEO of Matternet, a startup in Palo Alto, Calif., has introduced a new type of transportation system that will deliver medicine, food, goods and supplies wherever they are needed — with drones.
Matternet delivery drone
Raptopoulos plans to use small, unmanned aircraft to deliver medicine and other vital goods to places that are difficult to drive in, such as Haiti or sub-Saharan Africa. He expects drones someday will make routine deliveries in U.S. cities, too, after they prove their worth abroad.
“We can deliver medicine within minutes or hours,” Raptopoulos said Thursday at a panel on innovation at the International Transport Forum’s annual summit of hundreds of government and industry leaders.
Another panelist was Robin Chase, a co-founder of the hourly car rental company Zipcar who is now CEO of Buzzcar in France, where people rent cars to each other.
Jonas Eliasson, a professor at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, spoke about “nudging” people toward innovation such as with congestion fees to reduce traffic on busy roads.
Drones are gaining attention because the U.S. Congress approved legislation last year calling for them to be included in the airspace where planes fly by September 2015.
The Federal Aviation Administration is developing safety regulations to prevent drones from colliding with planes. Privacy also is a concern as critics worry about cameras on drones peering into their yards and homes.
“We’re watching this quite closely,” Raptopoulos said. “We’ll see how quickly it happens.”
Planned delivery routes
He expects Latin American and African countries to embrace his proposal because 1 billion people – one in seven worldwide – lack access to roads sometime during the year. He says 85% of roads in sub-Saharan Africa are unusable at times.
To reach inaccessible locales, Raptopoulos suggests setting up a network of drones that would fly about 400 feet off the ground along automated paths by computer program. The drones he showed in pictures were about the size of a small tabletop, with a helicopter-style rotor at each corner carrying the cargo in the middle.
The drones could carry about 4 pounds about 6 miles before needing to recharge, a weight that Raptopoulos says would cover 80% of the goods sold through Amazon.
For longer distances, he plans a network of stations where computer programming would guide drones to land, swap batteries and resume their journeys.
“Our approach is to basically optimize for safety, reliability and security,” Raptopoulos said.