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Flying Delivery Drones for Developing Countries

Unlike developed countries where transportation of people, goods and information is made possible by elaborate and expensive-to-maintain infrastructure, many poorer developing countries struggle to keep roads open and accessible year round. With a project to improve living conditions in these countries in mind, a California-based startup named Matternet has come up with a system that just might overcome some of the difficulties that the lack of good infrastructure leads to: lack of communication, disruption of economic activities, and reduced access to medical care and supplies.

The team, composed of student entrepreneurs, engineers and hackers from Singularity University, was challenged to solve a problem related to world poverty and came across the problem of transporting goods in the developing world. While it takes only a second to send an email or a few days to deliver a package in an industrialized country, it can take up to a month for an HIV blood test to be analyzed and returned in less developed countries. Therefore a relevant question was asked: despite the low-quality infrastructure in such countries, how could one increase the transportation speed and interconnectedness of cities and villages separated by large distances?

To address this issue, the team came up with the idea of using “quadcopters.” which are small, autonomous flying drones that will be used to create a cargo-transporting network. These computerized, GPS-guided drones are capable of transporting cargo loads of up to 2 kg over a distance of 10 km, while flying 40 km/h at a height of approximately 400 feet. They even include an emergency parachute to preserve their freight should they fail in midflight. If the system works, the team will develop an “an ultra-flexible and automated logistics network“ covering regions and continents, enabling point-to-point deliveries of much needed goods like HIV medication to remote regions. If successful, this sustainable and low cost system (it is estimated that it will only cost 24 cents per 10 km) could have a hugely positive impact for concerned populations.

The Matternet team, which will likely be based at the NASA Ames Research Park, is now in the process of gathering funds from private investors and universities to make their project a reality. Hopefully, it won‘t be long before everyone hears about this great humanitarian – and high tech – innovation.

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