Drones could soon be delivering everything from post to drugs using a vast international network, a U.S. firm has claimed.

Matternet, a Silicon Valley startup, has already trialled the drone network in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where they were able to fly for six miles carrying a 2kg payload.

The firm now hopes to expand with an ambitious plan to replace existing delivery systems and set up a global network of ‘drone routes’ for the gadgets, which can automatically fly themselves.

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You've got drone-mail: The U.S. startup hopes to initially use the network to deliver drugs and other supplies to third world countries

You’ve got drone-mail: The U.S. startup hopes to initially use the network to deliver drugs and other supplies to third world countries

 

HOW IT WORKS

The matternet drones are entirely automated, and will be backed up by a network of ‘hubs’ on the ground rather like post offices.

These hubs would let the drones pick up and drop of packages, and also recharge their batteries before continuing to the next station.

Control of the drones and the assignment of packages for delivery would eventually be handled by an automated operating system, Matternet says, and orders or requests could  be placed and paid for by mobile phone.

 

The firm hopes to set up recharging base stations for the drones so they can stop and recharge themselves along the way.

Currently the firm has drones that can travel six miles and carry 2kg, but has plans for larger drones with a longer rang.

The firm hopes the system will be used initially in rural areas or countries where there is no established road network.

‘The easiest way to describe what we are doing is to compare how mobile telephony has taken off in the developing world,’ Matternet founder and CEO, Andreas Raptopoulos told CNN.

‘(We want) to leapfrog the traditional modes of transportation infrastructure in a similar way and bring items through these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to people who may otherwise be cut off or isolated,’

So far, Matternet have reached the stage of running  trials of ‘quadrocopter’ drones, which took place in Haiti and the Dominican Republic last year.

The firm has ambitious plans.

‘We are creating the next paradigm for transportation using a network of unmanned aerial vehicles,’ it says.the next paradigm for transportation using a network of unmanned aerial vehicles

 
Urban drones: the delivery systems could eventually be used in cities around the world to automatically deliver packages

Urban drones: the delivery systems could eventually be used in cities around the world to automatically deliver packages

The potential applications, the firm says,include delivery of medicines to disconnected areas, enabling farmers to supply products directly to customers and providing vital materials to areas cut off by natural disasters.

If the initial trials are a success, a version for cities could also be built, allowing existing couriers to be replaced by unmanned drones flying through the sky.

The firm also believes the system could be relatively cheap, and according to CNN, a Matternet case study of the Maseru district of Lesotho, put the price of a network of 50 base-stations and 150 drones at just $900,000.

 
An artist's impression of how Matternet's drone network could expand across Africa to offer deliveries to remote areas using base stations

An artist’s impression of how Matternet’s drone network could expand across Africa to offer deliveries to remote areas using base stations

 

 
The prototype design for a Matternet drone, showing a large cargo carrying area in red, and six rotor blades to keep it in the air

The prototype design for a Matternet drone, showing a large cargo carrying area in red, and six rotor blades to keep it in the air.

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