Drones and Satellites for Good – Drones as Flying Ambulances

matternet_drones
Matternet

In areas with poor road infrastructure, getting vital equipment and supplies to residents can be difficult. One US-based organisation is looking at how drones could be used as medical couriers.

Author Hanadi Siering, 07.21.15

In areas with poor road infrastructure, getting vital equipment and supplies to residents can be difficult. One US-based organisation is looking at how drones could be used as medical couriers.

Around three billion people worldwide live in areas with no proper roads. They make do with sandy paths that can get turned into muddy tracks during the rainy season and have little to no access to trains, stations or harbours. The long distances that must be taken in order to reach the next well or doctor must often be travelled by foot. Emergency services are frequently delayed because the nearest hospital is too far away. A Californian named Andreas Raptopoulos wants to change this – with the help of small, unmanned courier drones. Raptopoulos is the founder of the startup Matternet.

Matternet uses drones as so-called mobile medical couriers. The drones are operated via a phone app and can travel distances of up to 20 km and transport packages weighing up to one kilogram. A network of pre-designated stations outline where the mini flying robots can dock.

Matternet ONE Takes Off

According to Singularity University, the costs are, amazingly, kept within reachable limits: in order to cover the Masru district in Lesotho, South Africa, about 50 base stations and 150 drones are needed. That would cost about 900,000 USD – about as much as paving a two kilometre stretch of a one-way road in this area would cost.

There are plenty of application possibilities: remotely-located farmers could use them to transport their goods to market; and the devices can carry lifesaving medications and equipment from a hospital to sick people in rural areas.

Of course the drones cannot replace conventional forms of transport but they can act as complementary tools. The first flights took place last year in Haiti and the Dominican Republic under the careful watch of NGO workers and business people who are taking part in the pilot phase.

Matternet’s first drone is called Matternet ONE. In summer 2015, a pilot project between Matternet and the Swiss Post is scheduled to get underway with Matternet carrying out the delivery of small parcels.

One Matternet ONE drone costs around 5,000 USD. As soon as the system is up and running, Raptopoulos will start gathering funds and working with authorities to help impoverished people in rural areas.

From the bottom of the ocean to the outer reaches of the galaxy – the possibilities offered by drones and satellites are practically unlimited. Unmanned aerial vehicles are no longer only used in war zones. Equipped with cutting-edge technology, they are also valuable aids in the fight against pollution and social injustice. They can expose polluters and even locate people buried under rubble. In our RESET Special ‘Drones and Satellites for Good‘, we will introduce projects that use satellites and drones towards sustainable development.

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