Tuesday, 13 March 2012

 Matternet, an exciting new team project out of Singularity University, has proposed the idea of using flying robots to deliver food, medicine, and other goods to hard-to-reach, poverty-stricken areas of the world.
The presentation took place at one of Google’s recent “Solve for X” conferences (a video of the presentation is located at the end of the article). The robots described are autonomous, electrically charged aerial vehicles. They can be implemented immediately as the technology and know-how are already in place.
This might be sooner than later, as there is already considerable need for a solution to this problem: several parts of the world do not have the adequate enough roads to transport medicine and goods in a timely/efficient manner.
Data that drove the concept
In Matternet CEO and founder Andreas Raptopoulos’s presentation, he revealed some of the data that was fundamental in driving his idea from concept to realization: 1 billion people in the world have no access to all-season roads. Of those who do have access, 12% are paved and 85% are unusable in the wet season.
This is a major issue, in particular, when medicine and medical equipment is ordered from a clinic or hospital: it can take several hours or even days to transport the goods via local roads. Raptopoulos’s solution is to use Autonomous Aerial Vehicles (AAV), which could be dispatched to reach the clinics quickly and cheaply.
Using the Internet as reference
Raptopoulos reveals in his presentation that the concept for the Matternet is based on the World Wide Web, only instead of delivering information to the digital world, the AAVs delivers goods in the physical world.
Automatic ground stations would be set up throughout the area to receive and launch the AAVs. They’re easy to install, and would allow the flying bots to span an entire continent with an ultra-flexible automated logistics network.
How the ground stations work
Along with acting as the commercial hub for the AAVs, the ground stations would charge and maintain the bots, too. A.I.-driven logistics software would be in charge of controlling the AAV traffic. It would handle customer requests and decide the best route based on a variety of elements, including urgency of delivery, network load, weather, etc. .

The entire system would be in operation 24 hours a day
How the AAVs work
The AAV’s wing architecture has a lift comparable to that of a helicopter; that is, it has a vertical take-off and landing. The bots can travel up to 25 mph and face up to 20 mph winds; they can even fly in the rain
They’re pretty safe, too: if there’s a mechanical failure, a parachute is released for safe descent.
The AAV flies mainly using GPS, with destination coordinates being entered at the takeoff station. During flight, sensor fusion, IMU, pressure sensors, and a magnetometer all make sure that the bot can continue its flight even if the GPS temporarily kicks out. When it’s within the vicinity of its destination, the ground station takes over the AAV with ultra wide-band sensors, and brings it in safely.
Implementing the Matternet concept in phases
Implementing the Matternet can be done in three phases:
• Phase 1: Matternet team provides clinic with an AAV kit, which enables point-to-point (6 miles) transportation of payloads up to 4.5 lbs.
• Phase 2: As more ground stations and AAVs are connected to the A.I.-driven logistics system, cargo capacity can be increased up to 220 lbs.
• Phase 3: When a full network of ground stations is deployed, the Matternet can transport heavier goods — up to 2,200 lbs.
Users can either buy or rent ground stations, or otherwise subscribe to a Matternet network to participate.
HUGE savings

The savings behind running this technology is an additional benefit. The cost to run a single mission — that’s a 4.5 lbs. package traveling 6 miles — is just $0.24. Here’s how it breaks down:
• Vehicle: $0.03
• Battery: $0.09
• Ground Station: $0.10
• Energy for flight: $0.02 (if a clinic has to use solar energy to operate the AAV because there is no power grid nearby, the cost for this component would be triple the amount, or $0.06)
Then there’s the cost to run and maintain this program. In regards to the AAV, cost for the bot is $1,000; maintenance is $100 a year; and the lifespan is 10 years. As far as the ground station is concerned, one station is $15,000; maintenance is $500 a year; and the life of the station is 10 years.
Raptopoulos expects these numbers to improve as the technology continues to develop.
The costs are even more impressive with Raptopoulos’s example at the 7:30 mark of his presentation. Here, he goes into a real-world example of the need for a more efficient delivery system for the transportation of HIV/AIDS lab tests in Lesotho, Africa. Right now, the government is using ponies to transport goods. The total cost to put in a complete Matternet system is less than $1 million. For comparison’s sake, this is how much it would cost to lay down a 1-mile, 1-lane road.
Could be used throughout the rest of the world
Raptopoulos foresees Matternet as being a very efficient delivery system throughout densely populated areas of the world, too, as a sort of “new layer” of infrastructure — one that exists between the Internet and roads.


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