Santo Domingo.- A fleet of small flying drones could speed up the delivery of medicines and other supplies to remote areas, and even provide a cheaper alternative to a road network, according to Matternet, a start-up company in the US, guardian.co.uk reports.
“Just as the internet has revolutionized the transport of online data, the company says a network of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – the "matternet" – could do the same for supplies,” the outlet said.
It reports that the company envisages a network of base stations 10km apart, with flying drones carrying packages of up to 2kg between bases. A drone would take only 15 minutes for each trip without needing to recharge or replace its batteries.
“The projected cost for setting up a case study in Lesotho with 50 base stations and 150 drones is $900,000 (£560,000). After that, each trip by a drone would cost only 24 cents. This compares with about $1m for building a 2km, one-lane road, according to the company, ”the guardian.co.uk report says.
Andreas Raptopoulos, one of Matternet's founders, said there are three key technologies – electric flying vehicles, landing stations and routing software – that make such a network technically feasible. The company tested prototypes in Haiti and the Dominican Republic in August and September last year, guardian.co.uk said.
"We went out with three vehicles, testing [remotely] piloted and autonomous missions in urban and rural locations in both countries," Raptopoulos told SciDev.Net. The trials included discussions with local aviation authorities and government officials, he added. "The trials were successful. We logged several missions and found strong applications for the technology."
Guardian.co.uk adds that the potential applications are courier transport in the Dominican Republic and delivery of diagnostic samples in Haiti. But Raptopoulos said there is much more development needed. "We have to improve [the system's] autonomous navigation and battery exchange, and ensure it is safe. It will take us 12 to 18 months to address these adequately before we can consider commercial or humanitarian deployments."