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Quadcopter Drone Network Will Transport Supplies For Disaster Relief

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the rise-of-the-machines dept.

Transportation 113

kkleiner writes "A startup called Matternet is building a network of quadcopter drones to deliver vital goods to remote areas and emergency supplies to disaster-stricken areas. The installation of solar-powered fueling station and an operating system to allow for communications with local aviation authorities will allow the network to be available around the clock and in the farthest reaches of the world. 'Matternet’s drone network has three key components. First, the drones—custom-built autonomous electric quadcopters with GPS and sensors, capable of carrying a few kilos up to 10 kilometers (and more as the tech advances). Next, the firm will set up a network of solar-powered charging stations where drones autonomously drop off dead batteries and pick up charged ones. A drone battery that can travel 10 km need not limit the drone itself to 10 km — rather, these drones can theoretically travel the whole network by swapping out batteries. The final component will be an operating system to orchestrate the drone web, share information with aviation authorities, and fly missions 24/7/365.'"

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113 comments

Thunderbirds are GO (2)

Neo-Rio-101 (700494) | about a year ago | (#43791071)

Well now, the Thunderbirds are truly obsolete!

Re:Thunderbirds are GO (4, Funny)

rossdee (243626) | about a year ago | (#43791189)

"the Thunderbirds are truly obsolete!"

Don't worry, Mozilla will have a new version out next week.

Re:Thunderbirds are GO (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43792441)

Thunderbirds did have some UAVs (carried in TB1 IIRC), but they were micro-UAVs for observation only. And I think they only got rolled out for one episode (Edge of Impact).

Yeah, like that'll work (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43791077)

In the sort of remote disaster prone areas that this would be useful, the batteries and any copper will be ratted by the locals, and everywhere else, the stations will be used as target practice.

Re:Yeah, like that'll work (4, Insightful)

Immerman (2627577) | about a year ago | (#43791109)

You have a dim view of humanity my anonymous friend. Justified, perhaps, but dim.

What I want to know if why the %$#@! are they using electric drones if the idea is to service remote areas? 10km? Give me a couple days to warm up and I could carry 100lbs/day of supplys that far on foot without hardly trying. Electric is nice and all but it's still what, an order of magnitude or so lower in energy density than hydrocarbons? When you choose ideaology or engineeering convenience over actual real-world use-case scenarios don't be surprised when your brilliant new product is still-born.

Re:Yeah, like that'll work (4, Insightful)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#43791165)

Response time. You have to follow terrain, the drone does it in a straight line and at higher speed.

The electric I imagine is so the charging stations can operate for years without refueling or repair. A useful feature, as they are all advertising expensive parts ready for the looting, so would probably have to be placed in concealed, inaccessible locations in the middle of nowhere. Of course, they could just use a much larger drone with an engine and not need the stations at all... it'd seem easier to just automate the long-established airdrop technology. Plane flies out, drops crates of supplies on parachute, plane flies back.

Re:Yeah, like that'll work (1)

cryptolemur (1247988) | about a year ago | (#43791455)

A better option would be to combine these with something like Aeroscraft cargo blimp to haul 60 tons od stuff in hours (20 -30) to disaster area and then do the delivery by drones.

The stuff could be preassembled kits of food rations, water purification, wide-spectrum antibiotics, perhaps a heater packaged in a light sheltering material with simple, drawn, cuilturally independent instructions in every item.

Re:Yeah, like that'll work (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | about a year ago | (#43792415)

60 tons of cargo is an absolutely immense "blimp". The largest lighter-than-air craft built to date only had a payload of around 10 tons.

Blimp vs Zeppelin (1)

sabt-pestnu (967671) | about a year ago | (#43795055)

Odd you should say that the largest lighter-than-air craft could carry only 10 tons.

A simple google search reveals that the Hindenburg [wikipedia.org] apparently had a lift capacity of 10,000kg, which is indeed 10 (metric) tons, or approximately 10 "long tons". Something closer to 11 "short tons", though.

I was thinking the CycloCrane [wikipedia.org] would have a larger lift, but apparently that was limited to 2 tons (theory; 1 ton in practice, it turned out).

Re:Yeah, like that'll work (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a year ago | (#43792157)

So you're planning on putting lots of these expensive, hardened systems anywhere there 'might' be a disaster? Makes absolutely no sense.

If a disaster is that likely in a given locale, it would make much more sense to build your bunker - and fill it with thousands of pounds of supplies instead of letting your tiny toy copter bring you a couple of cans of beer and some joints. Or do what the Air Force does, put the stuff in pallets, attach a parachute and airlift it to where it's needed.

This is like trying to download Wikipedia on a 300 baud modem line.

Re:Yeah, like that'll work (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#43792321)

All true if it's just a disaster network - but even when no disaster is present, there could be uses. Perhaps enough to cover running costs. Much of the world is still very rural, with villages or even individual residences kilometers apart and joined only by narrow dirt tracks. Drones could be cheaper than couriers for light-weight deliveries. Drugs, books, consumer goods in general, replacement parts for damaged infrastructure. Think less crates of food, and more the type of things you might buy on Amazon.

Disasterwise, best use I can think would be to truck out supplies to the fringes of the site, then drone them the last mile to overcome the blocked roads and rubble and distribute the supplies over a large area rather than require survivers trek to a distribution point.

Re: Yeah, like that'll work (1)

iamhassi (659463) | about a year ago | (#43793267)

Using drones for delivery is not a new idea at all, problem is no one has the money to spend on something that will not make a profit. Other drone delivery systems are at least using them to deliver beer or newspapers or other things, and if a disaster struck I suppose they could be used to deliver water instead of beer https://www.google.com/search?q=drone+delivery [google.com]

Re:Yeah, like that'll work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43792451)

It would make sense to have turbine-powered quadcopters. Power density really does matter when you're lugging shit around

Re:Yeah, like that'll work (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | about a year ago | (#43792951)

Turbines do not scale well, and if you're trying to put 4-6 of them at a few horsepower each on a quadrotor, you're going to get absolutely shit for efficiency. If you try to couple all the rotors into a single turbine at a few tens of horsepower, you're still going to get shit for efficiency, and now it's not going to be controllable. Forget all that, it doesn't make sense to use quadrotors in the first place. Disc loading really does matter when you're lugging shit around, and those small rotor discs mean unnecessarily high disc loading.

Re:Yeah, like that'll work (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#43792541)

Response time. You have to follow terrain, the drone does it in a straight line and at higher speed.

And people don't have to be waiting for a call in three shifts, including drivers...

If someone needs an emergency bottle of insulin or stuff like that, this could actually be the most sensible way of getting it to them ASAP.

it's drone maintenance (1)

schlachter (862210) | about a year ago | (#43793351)

Electric drones will require very minimal maintenance. Electric motors and batteries don't really need servicing, they don't require all the same fluids, they can last longer, they are less complex, and they can refuel in remote locations for free.

A gas/diesel motor would need very frequent and regular servicing and a large maintenance team.

Re:it's drone maintenance (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#43794611)

My suggestion sounds like a good approach. A good old-fashioned truck to haul the supplies most of the way, to the edge of the rubble/rabble/flood/ash, then use drones to distribute the supplies from there. The drones don't need really long range then, and their low capacity isn't such an issue when they can make a trip in half an hour.

Re:Yeah, like that'll work (1)

Gaygirlie (1657131) | about a year ago | (#43791451)

What I want to know if why the %$#@! are they using electric drones if the idea is to service remote areas? 10km? Give me a couple days to warm up and I could carry 100lbs/day of supplys that far on foot without hardly trying.

Drones don't need "a couple of days to warm up," and besides, what're you gonna do if there's a mountain or a canyon, a landfall, a sinkhole, collapsed buildings or anything similar in the way? That wouldn't be a problem at all for flying drones, but you could spend days trekking another path. In the time spent for you to "warming up" and finding another path to the destination the drones would've already sent several times the amount of stuff that you can carry.

Re:Yeah, like that'll work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43794721)

Airships. Dirigibles.

Re:Yeah, like that'll work (4, Insightful)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#43791155)

Stations are no fun to shoot.

The *drones* will be used as target practice. Not only good practice, but you get to play the mail-theft lottery. Shoot down a drone, maybe it's got a valuable cargo of expensive drugs. Or at least some food.

Re:Yeah, like that'll work (1)

Cenan (1892902) | about a year ago | (#43791443)

Or just shoot it down to put pressure on whomever needed what the drone carried. So many fun things to do with weapons and nothing but free time.

I guess that's it (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43791081)

We've reached the singularity now haven't we? I mean it's very singular how that company and that shill website happen to publish this sort of article at the same time when the kind of disaster they're talking about is in the news. It's times like these you're reminded that singularity hub isn't just faffing for the dimwitted, it's has a soul, too. A soul of darkness, granted, but a soul nonetheless.

Neat (3, Insightful)

maitai (46370) | about a year ago | (#43791097)

So a startup is trying to cash in on recent disasters with stuff that sounds great in the news feeds but they have no chance of actually deploying? Ok.

Re:Neat (1)

Zouden (232738) | about a year ago | (#43791743)

I agree. If they were serious about providing disaster relief, rather than wanting to play with cool toys, they'd use full-size helicopter drones capable of delivering hundreds of kilograms and travel the whole distance without needing to refuel. That would be a genuinely useful service.

How well are their little solar-charging quadrocopters going to fare in stormy weather?

Re:Neat (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | about a year ago | (#43796349)

Don't forget that they would use gasoline instead of solar toys. The energy density of oil is 20 times the one of the best batteries.

Quad copters? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43791107)

Why aren't people licensing tilt rotor technology from Boeing? It's dead simple at small scales for robotics. Heaps greater load lifting capacity and longer range.

Re:Quad copters? (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#43791175)

Off-the-shelf parts, perhaps. Lots of hobbyist quadcopter drones available now, but I've never seen a tiltroter drone.

Re:Quad copters? (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | about a year ago | (#43792449)

That doesn't mean quadrotors are in any way good for a commercial product. Quadrotors mean you don't need the complex gearboxes and swashplates of a traditional helicopter. You just get four cheap propellers and cheap electric motors, a speed controller, and strap them onto a bunch of sticks. The barrier for entry is very low, meaning hobbyists can get into it with little skill or ability. If you actually have trained engineers to design it, and trained machinists to built the intricate workings of a traditional helicopter, there is no value in a quadrotor. I can't help but summarily write off any company trying to bring such a product to market, since whoever holds the reigns has no background in basic physics.

Re:Quad copters? (1)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | about a year ago | (#43794187)

They exist. If I recall correctly, Model Airplane News even published plans for a fairly hefty gas-powered one (might have been another magazine).

Re:Quad copters? (1)

cheater512 (783349) | about a year ago | (#43791203)

Why do you need a licence? Wouldn't it be a motor on a servo? Little bit different to Boeing designs.
I see stability for a small tilt rotor plane while vertically ascending a bit tricky.

Why not one that can launch just by throwing it or off the top of a car? They already exist.

Re:Quad copters? (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | about a year ago | (#43792485)

Why would stability be any more difficult than a traditional helicopter? It's not like the center of gravity needs to be perfectly aligned with the center of the rotors. We have this thing called a swashplate. The rotor blades are hinged, and the free end rides on the swashplate. Move the plate up, your angle of attack decreases, and you have less thrust. Move it down, and you have more thrust. Pitch it, and you generate uneven thrust across the rotor disc. You can use this to shift that center of thrust across a wide area, compensating for a significant variation in CG. It does of course mean you have to build proper helicopter mechanisms, rather than a crappy variable-speed quadrotor.

Re:Quad copters? (1)

camperdave (969942) | about a year ago | (#43792991)

Hinged blades? swashplates? tilting rotors? That's a lot of mechanical systems to maintain. An electric quadcopter is simply four electric motors with propellers attached to their shafts. Nothing tilts or pivots or hinges. No moving parts apart from the propellers.

Re:Quad copters? (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | about a year ago | (#43793313)

That's also four electric motors and four speed controllers that must all be in proper functioning order or else the thing crashes.

Re:Quad copters? (1)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | about a year ago | (#43794469)

Those quadcopter things are fairly reliable. There's even designs out there for 6 or 8 redundant rotors. These things can survive a fairly hard landing especially if the rotors are shrouded, whereas a helicopter is a lot more damage-prone. A running helicopter that falls on its side will most likely need some serious repair work before it'll fly again. A damaged quadcopter can be fixed with duct tape in most cases.

Re:Quad copters? (1)

camperdave (969942) | about a year ago | (#43794531)

I'll take the reliability of four electric motors over a swash plate any day of the week, and twice on Saturdays.

Re:Quad copters? (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | about a year ago | (#43794665)

No you won't. Lift must be balanced. If you lose one motor, you also lose its opposite. If you're using these things to haul cargo, which means you're not running it anywhere near a 2:1 thrust to weight ratio, and you're going to crash. You're right back to the single point of failure you were with the swashplate.

Obligatory (2)

antifoidulus (807088) | about a year ago | (#43791123)

Supplies...including tacos? [tacocopter.com]

Re:Obligatory (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43794773)

My first thought as well, which led to one of my most nonsensical google queries ever: "tacocopter ~renamed matternet"?

Drone disaster releif (2)

rossdee (243626) | about a year ago | (#43791171)

Sounds good for eathquakes, but how well do they fly in a hurricane or severe thunderstorm

Re:Drone disaster releif (2)

msauve (701917) | about a year ago | (#43791235)

Fly? They're not really supposed to fly. They're supposed to collect grant money.

Re:Drone disaster releif (1)

camperdave (969942) | about a year ago | (#43793007)

Sounds good for eathquakes, but how well do they fly in a hurricane or severe thunderstorm

Erratically, and mostly downwind?

Sounds like a pretty good system (1)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | about a year ago | (#43791197)

Much more likely to be used for city-wide surveillance than for world-wide disaster relief.

Re:Sounds like a pretty good system (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#43791225)

Probably not.....you don't need autonomous charging stations for city-wide surveillance. You can just fly the drone back home.

Re:Sounds like a pretty good system (2)

stephanruby (542433) | about a year ago | (#43791521)

....you don't need autonomous charging stations for city-wide surveillance. You can just fly the drone back home.

Don't forget about quick deployment either.

A well placed charging station with a drone already inside ready to deploy at any time could shave off a number of minutes for getting first eyes on the scene. And sometimes, that very short initial lead time could be crucial in locating a drowning victim, or identifying a fleeing bank robber, or seeing what's going on just a few milliseconds after some gunshots are heard.

Re:Sounds like a pretty good system (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43791663)

Why is time crucial in locating a drowning victim? So he won't become more drowned?

So they can show the death. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43791895)

It won't help rescue the drowning victim because the actual people who could rescue aren't going to be any closer to the victim than currently and a 20 minute response time will REMAIN a 20 minute response time for that reason.

This presumes

a) that the drone is taken out there (if it's on a charging station), but if they knew that then they could also send humans out there at that time instead, or
b) that the drone is flying patrol in that area, which is unlikely or the result of continuous blanket surveilance of the entire area, which is what they say they aren't going to be doing.

Re:So they can show the death. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43792999)

Whoosh!

Re:So they can show the death. (1)

camperdave (969942) | about a year ago | (#43793043)

Ah, but you could deploy a squadron of these drones and cover a huge search grid, thus finding the victim sooner, allowing the Search and Rescue folks to concentrate more on the rescue portion than the search portion.

fascinating to think it could work (2)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#43791221)

It fascinates me that they think they could make a profit with something like this.

Re:fascinating to think it could work (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43791319)

It fascinates me that they think they could make a profit with something like this.

They don't make money off of what they're producing, they make money from the VCs. I think most of you know this already.
1. Come up with something that seems new and unique but is totally useless (a few kilograms over 10km, really?).
2. Get VC funding.
3. Pay yourself a salary (Profit!) while you do "research and development" for a few years until the VC funding runs out and they realize your idea isn't going to work in the real world.
4. Go to step 1.

Re:fascinating to think it could work (1)

CodeBuster (516420) | about a year ago | (#43791535)

The VCs are free to be as stupid as they want to be with their own money, but with titles like "Head of Regulatory Strategy" you know that they will be going after government money too which means that us taxpayers may still be footing the bill for this bullshit. That's what really chaps my hide.

Re:fascinating to think it could work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43792203)

They're probably being developed as dual use weapons. Instead of "dropping a few kilos of supplies" they will be used to "drop a few kilos of explosives/ordnance" You know, like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyros_%28bomb%29 THAT.

With fleets of automated quadcopters to do this, the powers that be will no longer have to rely on untrustworthy jihadi terrori......er, I mean "freedom fighter rebels".

Upcomming: youth version (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43791241)

Imagine the happiness of refugee children when they get rescued by supercat [artofthestory.com] !

Re:Upcomming: youth version (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43792061)

LMAO
had to rename it but,
LMSAO

Why not send in BigDog? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43791271)

I think sending in a pack of Boston Dynamics BigDogs/Alpha Dogs would be much more effective. Well, at least from people watching on T.V's point of view. I'm imagining a pack of 10-12 all converging on the area from different directions.

fly missions 24/7/365? in all weathers? (3, Interesting)

fantomas (94850) | about a year ago | (#43791337)

My impression was that copters are difficult to fly in high winds/storm conditions. Is this true? will this also be true of these copters? If so, the claim that they can fly 24/7/365 is perhaps not credible?

Re:fly missions 24/7/365? in all weathers? (2)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year ago | (#43791619)

fly missions 24/7/365?

Yes, indeed: they'll take a break in leap years.

Re:fly missions 24/7/365? in all weathers? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43792655)

24 seconds per minute.
7 minutes per hour.
365 hours per year.

Seems doable. :-)

speed compared to local and donkey? (2)

fantomas (94850) | about a year ago | (#43791351)

What is their average speed and reliability compared to a local with a donkey (classic and well proven difficult terrain portering option)?

Re:speed compared to local and donkey? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43791529)

I understand your skepticism, but how many donkeys are available in Oklahoma right now, or were in the Northeast following Sandy? And, what is wrong with having multiple options?

Re:speed compared to local and donkey? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43791611)

If they don't have donkeys; take the elephants, same thing...

Re:speed compared to local and donkey? (1)

MooseTick (895855) | about a year ago | (#43795169)

I don't believe the tornadoes took the roads away. Anyone can drive a semi truck to OK with loads of supplies. What is a quadcoptor doing that a truck can't?

Same thing for Sandy. NY/NJ were not inaccessable. Small parts were for short periods. Still, those areas were so dense you'd need thousands of coptors to supply those people with supplies. A truck would still be a better faster option.

Re:speed compared to local and donkey? (2)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year ago | (#43791633)

TFS

will allow the network to be available around the clock and in the farthest reaches of the world.

Well, the patent for donkeys expired for some time: no way to get some money for building a network of donkeys in the far reaches of the world. Besides, I don't see how one may outsource the construction of donkeys to China.

wtf (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43791435)

sooo many butt hurt comments. sucks that people get to work on more interesting projects than you?

but more importantly, would be neat if these would deliver groceries to my house.

If it's too dangerous to send in a live pilot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43791475)

Then how do they figure there's going to be something to send relief to living in that area?

This REEKS of trying to find a "nice and acceptable" reason for drones so they can point to it and go "But are you wanting to kill the poor stranded kiddies?!?!?!".

I.e. like tacking on a "Help the starving children hit by the drought" rider on a bill for more DoD pork.

Re:If it's too dangerous to send in a live pilot (1)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about a year ago | (#43792861)

Forget, for a minute that drones have started off with a bad reputation, thanks to things like anonymous delivery of lethal capabilities and peering at people's backyard pot farms.

There are a LOT of intriguing applications for small quadcopters in a disaster situation. Since they are smaller, lighter, and slower that the bomb-type drones they can go places faster and easier than land-based alternatives and they can travel closer to the surface without the limitations of actually having to navigate the surface. Look at Oklahoma. In less than an hour a normal community became an unrecognizable obstacle course of twisted metal and debris with people intermingled with the rubble. Streets became impassible, and the extent of the damage and the urgency of the situation mandates that you cannot just bull your way in, you need to know what to address first in order to get a maximally-effective response.

A fleet of slow, low-flying quadrotors can map out this sort of debris field much more effectively than faster, high-flying craft, to say nothing of ground reconnaissance. It can help spot many of the victims, and not only direct aid to them, but deliver lightweight payloads such as cellphones and comfort supplies. It can make it easier to single out possible sites where victims might be trapped - even communicate directly with them.

Drones are a two-edged sword. But so are printing presses, and printing presses have almost certainly killed more people than drones. Don't throw out the good with the bad.

Doesnt' work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43791517)

... drones can theoretically travel ...

They tried this on India-China-Japan route. It didn't work. For a deposit system you need to carry in 4 times what you use. That is 1 unit in, 1 (or a bit less) unit out with 2 units are deposited to allow the next drone to hop to/from the next station. So for N hops, one will consume in 2^N units of fuel per drone simply for the last trip of 2*N (ie. return).

Now if they create deposits by sneaker-netting them to the depot, the problem will be solved.

Re:Doesnt' work (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year ago | (#43791711)

... drones can theoretically travel ...

That is 1 unit in, 1 (or a bit less) unit out with 2 units are deposited to allow the next drone to hop to/from the next station. So for N hops, one will consume in 2^N units of fuel per drone simply for the last trip of 2*N (ie. return).

Now if they create deposits by sneaker-netting them to the depot, the problem will be solved.

You forget the power of magic Matternet will be using: the indestructible (unaffected by disasters) network of solar-powered charging stations that can be used even nighttime (as in 24/7/365) and in the farthest reaches of the world.

What? Not magic but smoke-and-mirrors? Well, sonny, nothing that's not solvable by the correct amount of "lobby".

petrol/gas engine (2)

Max_W (812974) | about a year ago | (#43791615)

What is needed for quadrcopters is a small quiet petrol/gas engine. An electric battery has got too little energy. Usually it is just 10 - 30 minutes.

Re:petrol/gas engine (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | about a year ago | (#43792525)

What is needed for quadrotors is to stop using god damned quadrotors. If you want longer duration flight, you need to get that disc loading down, which means one big rotor instead of a bunch of small ones.

Re:petrol/gas engine (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43793291)

But that would just be a helicopter, those aren't nearly as hip as quadrotors!

If anything we need to add more rotors, I want the most fad-inducing and stylish 64-rotor assembly possible with current technology. Scrap that, I don't care if it's possible, just make it popular.

Re:petrol/gas engine (1)

schlachter (862210) | about a year ago | (#43793453)

the quadrotors makes them more stable; more agile; and simpler (no swashplate needed, no servos for changing blade angles, no rudder control)

Re:petrol/gas engine (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | about a year ago | (#43793647)

The quadrotors are simpler. I'll give you that. There is no swashplate, nor servos to control the swashplate, of course no rudder control simply means you can no longer control yaw.

More stable? More agile? Both of those statements are completely false. The use of a swashplate means your lift is continuously variable from one side of the disc to the other. It's trivial to shift your center of lift directly over top your center of gravity, and produce stable flight. Further, a traditional helicopter only ever operates at one RPM. You bring the rotor up to speed, and then you vary the throttle as necessary to maintain that speed. That means your changes in thrust are nearly instantaneous, as you only have to wait for your servos to change the pitch of your swashplate. On a quadrotor, you have to wait for your individual electric motors to spool up, which takes considerably more time since you're fighting momentum, rather than taking advantage of it. Take a look at some of the 3D acrobatic displays performed by hobbyists with traditional RC helicopters, and then rethink whether any quadrotor could even come close to their agility.

Re:petrol/gas engine (1)

schlachter (862210) | about a year ago | (#43795575)

I have a 3D helicopter. Good points on the agile/stable part.

But simplicity is a big big factor. Especially if you've got 1,000 of these things swarming 24/7.

Why disaster relief? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43791635)

It seems that there's already plenty of posters explaining why this won't/can't work for disaster relief.

Could anyone see any future for this sort of set up in cities for local parcel delivery?

I imagine law firms and other paper generating industries already send vast amounts of intracity mail and probably pay a reasonable amount to couriers for same day delivery. Would there be any future in installing the charging stations of the roofs of buildings and using the drones to deliver the mail?

I guess some of the issues raised by others are still valid but I'd rather see fewer Newmans in the world.

Re:Why disaster relief? (1)

src1138 (212903) | about a year ago | (#43791939)

For package delivery you would likely be flying in urban areas that have restrictions on unmanned aircraft, autonomous or not. I believe in the US you need at least one operator/spotter with line-of-sight (with their own eyes, not a camera) to the aircraft - not easy in urban areas unless you are in a helicopter yourself.

Nevertheless, I am sure this will happen in a few years, but it will be messy.

Re:Why disaster relief? (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | about a year ago | (#43792545)

Could anyone see any future for this sort of set up in cities for local parcel delivery?

No, because any first year physics student who actually understands the implication of calculus and Newtonian mechanics could tell you that you don't use quadrotors for payload or endurance.

so when are they going to flip the switch?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43791891)

all these comments, and no mention of skynet?

Skynet? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43792245)

I, for one, welcome our new dronish overlords!

Practical problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43792287)

(Posting anonymously because I was offered a share in Matternet, once upon a time.)

Matternet's heart is in the right place, there's no denying that. But their approach is, well, for lack of a nicer way to put it, untenable.

1) The idea of using quadcopters smacks of following a fad to get views and sound trendy. The reality is that quadcopters are horribly inefficient and unreliable. Quads are lots of fun to build and fly, and in the lab they're great, because you can bounce them off of walls and all you'll break is a propeller blade. Their advantage is that they're easily fixable after a crash. This is not an important attribute for a professional service. We don't build our planes the way de do because they're easy to repair after a crash: we build them so they don't crash.

If they want to go far, they need to use helicopters or fixed-wing. There's really no way around that. Then they need to make sure their vehicles don't crash, or cost so little that a lost UAV elicits a shrug.

2) The cargo capacities they're talking about are unreasonable from a political point of view. No country is going to want an NGO controlling a more potent air force than their own. After all, if you can deliver 1000kg of flour, you can also deliver 1000kg of high explosives. Or cocaine.

3) There's a reason these areas lack infrastructure after all these years, and building new, high-tech infrastructure isn't going to solve the problems that led to the older infrastructure decaying or being pilfered.

4) At the time, Matternet had no technical expertise. It was founded by people who called themselves "creators" or "serial entrepreneurs". Long on ideas, short on knowledge.

That being said, a reliable way of delivery on a small, 10-20km scale is more valuable than most /. readers recognize. There are many places where this small distance takes a day to travel, and it's when it's what stands between you and your medicine it might as well be 1000km away.

So I wish Matternet the best of luck. Their eyes are too big for their stomachs but maybe that will change with time as they mature and get some technical expertise on board.

Re:Practical problems (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | about a year ago | (#43792567)

1) The idea of using quadcopters smacks of following a fad to get views and sound trendy. The reality is that quadcopters are horribly inefficient and unreliable.

The idea smacks of someone who is already trying to drum up venture capital and hasn't yet talked to an engineer, or even a skilled hobbyist. It makes the concept sound very disingenuous.

Insight (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43792433)

Maybe before we rush to adopt quadcopters drones we should stop to consider the consequences of blithely giving this technology such a central position in our lives.

Single-use drones (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43792461)

Mount the guidance package (probably an arduino with a GPS receiver and AHRS sensor) on a small rocket and strap your payload in. 10kg is going to get there a lot faster and cheaper than the quadcopter, and microprocessors are cheap enough that they are practically disposable anyway (though you could always collect them afterwards). The money spend on single-use cardboard tubes and rocket fuel is saved by not having to put charging stations everywhere in a 10km cell grid.

Re:Single-use drones (1)

src1138 (212903) | about a year ago | (#43792791)

Hey, my Faberge eggs just arrived via drone....crap.

Re:Single-use drones (1)

ffsnjb (238634) | about a year ago | (#43795349)

If you haven't figured out a method to safely return an egg from a rocket trip, I've got a 4th grade science project to sell you.

Re:Single-use drones (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | about a year ago | (#43793037)

No one would ever use an Arduino for anything in large scale production. An Arduino costs $35 last I checked, but its constituent components amount to around $5 when bought individually.

Please make it able to go get me Starbucks! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43792901)

I work from home, and going outside is a huge hassle. I'd pay good money for one of these to go get me a Trenta iced coffee every morning.
First world problem!

Uh Huh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43793171)

"For disaster relief".

Everybody remember that phrase, because such a network will usually be used by police or homeland security to watch and control the citizens, under the claim that it's "for your safety". But they will cross many lines in the process, invading your privacy, and violating your rights.

Very cool (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about a year ago | (#43793509)

And very useless. The only thing crappier than the payload of a quadcopter is its range while carrying a full payload.

Got Cargo? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43793563)

Will this spur a revival of the Cargo Cult, with effigies of copter drones at remote villages? Warm coca cola anyone?

Once again borked by the power source (1)

RogueWarrior65 (678876) | about a year ago | (#43794043)

Sadly, this is yet another example of a cool concept that isn't going to get very far (no pun intended) due to the lack of the über power supply. At best, multirotor helicopters with any sort of payload have an endurance of about 15 minutes. Until that number gets well above the 60 minute threshold, this is all drawing-board stuff. And I'm talking about 60 minutes of on-mission performance which doesn't include getting to and from base camp. You're really going to need some sort of ultra-capacitor or fuel cell.

Seems familiar (1)

squidflakes (905524) | about a year ago | (#43794195)

A network of stations where fresh mounts/batteries can be picked up for a courier going over rugged and perhaps dangerous terrain.

So... this would be the Droney Express?

actual disaster management (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43794483)

as an actual disaster responder-
I can see a lot of utility in such a scheme. Couple the technology with GIS and you can deliver supplies really quickly and dynamically. Consider Katrina- take 100 or so drones with approx 2 kg payloads thats 2 16oz bottles of water per drone, 10 minute turn around time at 30 mph with a 6 mile working radius per drone, thats 600 sorties at maximum operating range per hour for one station I can now deliver 300 liters of water per hour. In a disaster people sheltering in place need approximately 4 L/day/person... So I can supply complete daily need for water at the rate of 75 people per hour over impassable terrain with a single drone detachment of about 100 (think Katrina, flooding etc). Screw solar. Use a generator. There are enough disasters happening on any given day that these could be moved site to site as needed. Most disasters dont actually make the news. I remember people on their roofs and on overpasses slowly dying of thirst during Katrina desperate for water, with not enough helicopters to deliver.

Now- add FLIR modules, micro cellular repeaters, small UHF and VHF repeaters, cameras, etc. I can do a lot with a 2 kg payload, and you can use them for assessment, communications, USAR, beacon delivery (like an EPIRB)....

Anyway- Cut the range in half? Still a very useful concept. Ask someone with field experience and they will want this.

Instead of ground stations....use Air stations (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43795719)

They have been several advances in the single wing solar powered drone area that allows it to stay up in the air pretty much forever. (given proper weather conditions etc. These drones should also be flying at an altitude that stays out of your commercial air zone. Now just use the same concept they have and have an air to air refuel. (or battery swap in this case. At the size of these quadcopters it shouldn't be to hard to land it on a larger slow flying object.

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