Silicon Valley Startup Develops Drone-Delivery System

While Inc. and Google Inc. aim to use drones to ship packages to customers—an exceedingly complex task—one Silicon Valley startup says there is an easier way to deliver with drones.

Matternet Inc. is working on creating networks of delivery drones that fly on largely fixed routes between base stations. The system can serve as a cheap and efficient infrastructure to transport crucial goods in the developing world, the company says, or a shipping pipeline for companies to move inventory between stores or to frequent large-scale customers.

Matternet aims to sell its delivery-drone system to companies, governments and aid groups. “We want to be the people that enable FedEx and UPS and many other smaller and bigger players to take [drone delivery] to the marketplace and make it widespread,” said Andreas Raptopoulos, Matternet’s 41-year-old chief executive.

Drone delivery direct to consumers, as Amazon and Google envision, faces technical hurdles including short battery life which limits range, and the need for sensors and software to avoid obstacles. Companies are also grappling with how to safely and accurately drop off packages.

Matternet claims its self-contained delivery network clears many of those hurdles. Its base stations can swap in new batteries when drones arrive, enabling Matternet’s devices to carry 2.2 pounds within a 12.5 miles radius—farther than many competitors. And flying fixed routes means drones can operate autonomously without collision-avoidance technology because their routes can be mapped to account for known obstacles like trees or power lines, Mr Raptopoulos said.

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