In Development: Networks of Unmanned Quadcopters to Ferry Medicine to Isolated Areas

By Valerie Ross | August 30, 2011 1:11 pm

Matternet’s design for a Medical Aid Quadcopter

What’s the News: Many of the unmanned aerial vehicles we hear about are flying off to war, laden with weapons or surveillance equipment. The tech start-up Matternet, however, is designing small quadcopter UAVs to carry peaceable payloads, delivering medical supplies and other necessities to areas dangerous or difficult to reach by road.

How the Heck:

The Future Holds:

  • The immediate applications, the company says, will be in public health, carrying drugs, diagnostic tests, tissue samples, and other medical supplies to and from areas isolated by poor roads, seasonal flooding, or natural disasters. As an example, Matternet points to Lesotho—a country with high rates of HIV where many people live prohibitively far from clinics.
  • Matternet plans to start out with simple point-to-point transport, as the contents of the kits suggest: one quadcopter ferrying supplies between two landing pads. In phase two of Matternet’s development, extra stations will enable the UAVs to venture farther afield, letting them fly not simply between two points but throughout a network. In phase three, the company hopes, distinct networks will overlap, creating one larger, interconnected network in which material goods can be transported long distances by UAV. The company plans to keep making the UAVs bigger and stronger, too, so that they can carry more than 2,000 pounds by phase three. They’re hoping the system will prove useful not just for clinics, but for governments, business owners, and parcel delivery systems.

Image courtesy of Matternet and Cyber Technology (WA) Pty/Ltd

  • Old Geezer

    So, it could carry a payload six miles. Then what? Does it have to be re-fueled in order to return to base? What are the logistics involved with keeping a fuel supply at the destination?

  • Peter La Franchi

    Strange but the image you use is that of a Cyber Technologies Quadcopter Maxi, with red cross markings. The image that other websites are using from Matternet is that of a cruciform airframe with exposed rotors (ie no ducts) which has absolutely no resemblance to the Cyber Technologies Quadcopter Maxi. Which website image should be believed?

  • Justine Lam

    Thanks for covering our team project, Matternet, out of Singularity University.

    Just wanted to post a correction on the image of the Medical UAV. We need to add image credit to Cyber Technology (WA) Pty/Ltd who graciously supplied us with our initial design idea.

    Justine Lam

  • Veronique Greenwood

    Thanks, Justine! Should be fixed now.

  • Ryan

    For refueling, battery/electric drones are usually the standard for smaller vehicles. Even if it did use gasoline, I don’t see the small amount of gasoline or ethanol being a problem since medical centers will be stocked with supplies anyways. If you plan on using this type of transportation, you should be easily able to stock a 5 gallon can of whatever fuel is needed.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar