Drones could deliver vital aid

Drones are not usually thought of as a tool for good, but entrepreneur and airborne logistics activist Andreas Raptopoulos thinks otherwise, Danielle Batist reports

Drones have had their share of reputation damage in recent years. Documentaries like the Oscar-nominated Dirty Wars exposed the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in secret modern warfare. Entrepreneur Andreas Raptopoulos thinks that the same technology has huge potential to do good.

He launched Matternet and is now on a mission to create “the next paradigm for transportation.” It wants to reach “anyone, anywhere,” but particularly remote places where roads are flooded, obstructed or non-existent.

Raptopoulos launched his Silicon Valley start-up and made the first test flights in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 2012. In just 15 minutes, prototype drones proved capable of delivering medicine parcels of up to two kilogrammes, ten kilometres away. Field trials showed the devices held up in hot, humid and dusty conditions and reached camps set up after the 2010 earthquake – this led to interest from non-government organisations and governments alike.

Raptopoulos was invited to speak at the prestigious TEDGlobal 2013 event. His speech, No Roads? There’s A Drone For That, has been viewed more than 700,000 times.

In sub-Saharan Africa alone, 85% of roads are unusable in the rainy season. Rather than spending fortunes on building infrastructure that is costly, polluting and congested, Raptopoulos says developing countries could leapfrog this phase altogether by implementing a cheap and highly adaptable drone network.

Questions have been raised about risk of interception and theft, as well as security issues at landing sites, but supporters of the technology point out that all of those things are true for traditional transportation methods.

Raptopoulos believes drones for good are not a matter of if, but how: “For those that still believe that this is science fiction, I firmly say to you that it is not.”