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Delivery By Drone Is Hovering Closer To Reality

Last week, a drone delivered 24 packages of medicine and supplies to a health fair in rural Virginia. The delivery marks the first FAA-approved delivery by drone and more are in the planning stages.

This is sure to interest a Silicon Valley startup, which has teamed up with the Swiss Post and Swiss WorldCargo. Matternet and the Swiss companies are joining in testing the commercial use of logistics drones.

Matternet’s CEO Andreas Raptopoulos speaks with  Here & Now’s Peter O’Dowd about the reality of drone delivery.

Interview Highlights: Andreas Raptopoulos

On old-fashioned truck delivery

“Well, nothing’s wrong with that. But if I want a 1-kilogram or 2-pound thing to be delivered to me by Whole Foods, it’s going to be much more expensive to send a 2-ton vehicle with a driver there, compared to sending a tiny vehicle like a drone that has very little dead weight.”

On navigational obstacles

“We have developed a very sophisticated route-planning system that allows us to basically to drop a pin anywhere on the map, and then our cloud system figures out what is the most efficient route to get there. And it basically looks at four different things. First of all it looks at the terrain – for example, if there is a hill, the drone will either need to go up and downhill or around it. And the algorithm shows what is more efficient, in terms of energy consumed.

“We look at the airspace – we only fly in a certain part of the air space where nothing else flies, typically below 150 meters here in Switzerland and above 70 meters. Then we fly in the least populated areas, so we have data around population density, and we always choose paths above areas that are the least populated. So in case there is any sort of failure in the system, we don’t inflict any damage on the ground. The fourth thing is that we assess whether in real-time, as we fly, that the vehicle can make the destination.”

On how far the concept of drone delivery has come

“Quite far. Things that seemed far-fetched and very, very expensive a couple of years ago are now very well within our grasp. One of the key things for having this application to work, beyond the fact that it absolutely needs technology that is autonomous – automatic operation is key here.”

On piloting the drones

“There is no pilot. In our operation here, there is a small control room that oversees a number of vehicles. In case the vehicle has any sort of malfunction, an alert is being raised through the system and someone can take an action. So there is no pilot in the aircraft, and this is absolutely necessary. Otherwise the obligation is not economically effective.”

On how the drones ‘ring the doorbell’

“It will not. … Once the vehicle is on its way, it will send you a message and it will send you a notification when it’s about to land and when it’s landed. It would be a different kind of doorbell.”



  • Andreas Raptopoulos, CEO of Matternet. He tweets @andreasx.

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