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Drones could be highways of future

Last Updated: Saturday, June 1, 2013 - 23:24

Washington: Two ambitious tech start-ups, Matternet and Aria, have been working towards creating a roving network of automated drones that will help connect rural and under-developed areas with little access to existing road or highway systems.

The idea may sound unrealistic, but preliminary vehicle testing has already taken place.

"(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," the CNN quoted Matternet founder and CEO, Andreas Raptopoulos, as saying.

Raptopoulos and his team including the company`s three other co-founders at the Singularity University in Silicon Valley envisioned employing a fleet of drones with a two kilogram payload capacity and a six mile flight-range.

These automated vehicles would be complimented on the ground by a vast network of strategically positioned hubs, enabling drones to recharge their batteries every few miles before continuing to the next station (where the recharging process is repeated) or final destination.

An automated operating system will control the drones and the assignment of packages for delivery. Orders or requests could then be placed and paid for by cell phone.

The potential applications, Raptopoulos explained, 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.

In the future, he added, the concept could also be adapted to enhance the transport or distribution systems of large cities.

Matternet have so far reached the stage of conducting initial trials of "quadrocopter" drones, which took place in Haiti and the Dominican Republic last year.

But Raptopolous noted the concept needs more testing before commercial or civilian deployment can be considered.

Meanwhile Aria (Autonomous Roadless Intelligent Array) -- set up by students from the same Singularity University class but concentrating more on developing an open source system and ground network-intends to develop an autonomous aerial system to service this year`s Burning Man festival in Nevada.

Aria co-founder, Arturo Pelayo, stated that a hyper-connected UAV network creates the possibility of a physical delivery system so dense and interconnected that is in effect an "analogue internet."

But Raptopolous emphasizes that he doesn`t see drones replacing roads or highways any time soon.

Roads, after all, still carry the obvious benefit of being able to transport people and cater for much larger and heavier loads.

He noted that the idea of Matternet is not to replace systems where they work well but really to compliment them.


First Published: Saturday, June 1, 2013 - 23:24
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