Matternet, flying medical supplies with drones in Asia and Europe expands to the Middle East, but complex FAA regulations hold them back in the US.
Matternet is flying medical supplies with drones in Asia, America, Europe, and expanding into the Middle East, but complex and outdated regulations hold the company back in the US. Matternet gained its reputation through drone humanitarian deliveries in regions like Papua New Guinea and Bhutan. Today, the company specializing in drone healthcare logistics is operating in Berlin, Switzerland, Tokyo, and Abu Dhabi.
In late 2019 Matternet partnered with UPS and conducted the first delivery by drone of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in North Carolina US. Through the partnership the company gained FAA certification, however, the company never expanded its US operations. Matternet services a 13-hospital network in the largest city of Europe, Berlin where it transports 15,000 samples every day. In Tokyo, the company partnered with Japan Airlines to transport prescription pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, and blood units. Now, they are setting up shop in Abu Dhabi.
Matternet recently inaugurated their latest technology, an autonomous drone-port, a key for their vision of the future of drone delivery, but the company has no plans for the US. The FAA regulates all drone carriers through the guidelines for Package Delivery by Drone (Part 135) which can be expedited under the Special Governmental Interest SGI in cases of emergencies. The regulations are complex and include five lengthy phases of certification. Some FAA specifics are very outdated, for example, the regulation that requires drone operators to be “in line of sight” of the drone. The FAA assures they are relaxing regulations and working to meet the new technology but the reality is that there are only a few drone companies that have been able to jump through all FAA hoops.
The Future Of Drone Delivery Is Here To Stay
Unlike other drone companies, Matternet is not just about simple drones. They run an advanced end-to-end system made up of drones, mission control rooms, and drone stations. Their M2 drone can safely fly up to 4.5 pounds of payload, operate in bad weather and rain, and fly up to 20 kilometers while hitting top speeds of 70 km per hour. Matternet’s latest innovation is a futuristic 3-meter high drone port which the company believes is the future of drone delivery.
Packages are delivered and picked up at the drone port. Users never come in direct contact with the drone. The drone port automates loading and unloading of payloads and drone maintenance, including fresh battery replacements. The company calls the drone ports the “nodes of the nervous system,” while operators in mission control are “the brain of the system on the cloud” responding to customer requests, generating routes, and supervising and controlling the drones. “We want to show how drone city networks work,” Andreas Raptopoulos, co-founder and CEO of Silicon Valley-based Matternet said. Matternet is confident that its innovating drone delivery system will open the doors to other cities.
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