Project Details


Drone networks enable healthcare delivery to rural communities

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Project Twitter: @matternet

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  • Health
  • Safety & Security
  • Social Exclusion
  • Physical Computing

One billion people – a seventh of the global population – don’t have access to all-season roads. This is an especially serious problem in developing countries. For example, 85% of roads in sub-Saharan Africa are unusable during the rainy season. 

Andreas Raptopoulos, co-founder of Silicon Valley startup Matternet, says that the solution isn’t to build more roads. Just as mobile phone coverage leapfrogged the need for landlines in developing countries, so Raptopoulos aims to leapfrog the need for roads with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), more commonly known as drones.  

A study conducted by the Matternet team in Maseru, the capital of Lesotho, showed that the entire city could be connected by a drone network with 50 base stations and 150 drones for $900,000, when a one-lane 2-km road would cost $1 million.  

Each Matternet drone can carry packages of up to 2kg and connect to a base station, where it can release the package and pick up a new battery. A 10km journey costs a mere 24 cents, and routing software ensures little human intervention is needed.

Following the concept study in Maseru, the Matternet team conducted field tests in Bhutan, in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) to deliver medical supplies. Further tests followed in Papua New Guinea with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) to transport medical tests for tuberculosis, and in Malawi with UNICEF to transport medical tests and blood samples so wait times for HIV results could be reduced. 

The field tests proved that Matternet drones were adept at flying in bad weather, and the company has now signed a collaboration agreement to establish the first UAV transportation network for eight Primary Healthcare Centres and two hospitals in the Dominican Republic, which is expected to benefit 23,168 low-income people. Find out more at

Image courtesy of Matternet

Last updated: 03rd of October, 2016

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