Over a billion people live worldwide without access to all-weather roads and transport infrastructure. During the wet season in many countries dirt roads are inaccessible, stemming the flow of food and health services to the areas that need them most.
Instead of building paved roads, which are costly and environmentally damaging, what if developing countries could ‘leapfrog’ to the next stage of transport infrastructure, one in which goods are sent directly to those in need, rather than dispatching people to retrieve & deliver? Matternet, a new company formed out of a Singularity University team project, could be the solution to this critical problem.
Using Autonomous Aerial Vehicles (AAV) like the one pictured above, the Matternet concept is structured similarly to the internet itself. Small flying transport vehicles carry light goods (around 2Kg) over a distance of 10Km between free-standing ground stations where people would pick up and drop off cargo. So instead of ordering medicine at a remote clinic and waiting hours or days for it to be delivered from a central hospital, a Matternet AAV could be dispatched to reach the clinic quickly and cheaply.
Based on the easily installed ground stations the Matternet fleet of flying robots could span an entire continent with an ultra-flexible, automated logistics network.
The ground stations could also provide wifi and remote connection with healthcare providers, all powered by solar energy. The network would be run by an AI that constantly optimized and monitored the system for best performance and low operating costs. Matternet estimates that once fully developed, it would be cheaper to send a small package via AAV than it would cost to send a human on a dirt bike along muddy roads. And since all it takes to expand the network is to install a new node, the Matternet has the same scalability as the internet.
The implications of this kind of system are tremendous. Not only is the technology and know-how already available, the cost of implementing it is incredibly small. As Matternet CEO Andreas Raptopoulos explains in the video below, it would cost less than $1 million to install 50 ground stations and 150 AAVs in a small African country, less than the cost of a one-lane 2Km paved road. The Matternet would also work extremely well in an environment with lots of infrastructure, but where it’s overcrowded or inefficient. In megacities like Sao Paolo small parcel delivery could be taken over by AAVs to save money, time and lives.
Matternet could be a ‘new layer’ of infrastructure between the internet and roads, revolutionizing the concept of transport. It could benefit millions if not billions of people with increased access to medicine and other important goods. CEO Raptopoulos claims that “Matternet will do for physical transport what the internet did for the flow of information,” and is launching his idea with a pilot project financed by the Dominican Republic.
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