Andreas Raptopoulos, the owner of Matternet, is on a mission “to redefine how we transport things around us.”

Chiefly, that mission involves developing an unmanned aerial transportation system that can reach anyone, anywhere, perhaps most importantly those living in under-developed parts of the world. 

It is here where Raptopoulos believes UAVs could have their most beneficial use. 

For example, nearly 1 billion people on the planet live without access to all-season roads, meaning that a significant portion of the population is unable to receive aid and emergency supplies when needed. In sub-Saharan Africa, 85 percent of the roads are impassable during the rainy season.

The cost of building all-weather road networks for these regions could run into billions of dollars, and take several decades to achieve.
Drones have the potential to transport blood tests, collect tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS diagnostics, and allow diagnoses to be made in an efficient way, travelling in just 30-minutes the distance that it would take terrain vehicles a day to cover. 

Matternet’s solution is to build a network of landing stations 10-kilometres apart, and use flying drones to ferry lightweight goods between the bases. A UAV would take 15 minutes to carry a 2kg package between stations, a size large enough to deliver vaccines or lab samples, for example.

The projected cost of each drone would be between $3,000 and $5,000, according to Raptopoulos, with each landing station costing about the same amount. The company estimates it could cover an area of 138-sq-km with 150 UAVs at a cost of $900,000. After that, each drone trip would cost between just $0.50 and $1.00. By comparison, says Raptopoulos, building a 2km, one-lane road requires closer to $1m in funding.

So far, they’ve carried out field trials in Dominican Republic and Haiti and worked with Doctors without Borders in Tokyo to deliver TB samples. 

The goal is to empower others to use this technology in a positive way, an objective he boils down simply: “If you succeed,” he says, “you’re going to be saving somebody’s life.”