Drones played a prominent role at the recent ITS World Congress in Hamburg, Germany. In addition to the maiden flight of a Volodrone, one of the highlights of the event, the U.S. provider Matternet was also present with its M2 Drone performing demonstration flights. On this occasion, CFG spoke with Oliver Evans. The former head of Swiss WorldCargo is responsible for Global Business Development at Mountain View, California-based Matternet.
CFG: Mr. Evans, you exited Swiss WorldCargo in 2015, and joined drone provider Matternet right after. Looking back, did you ever regret the decision?
OE: To tell the truth, I never left Swiss WorldCargo: my heart is still with the team. Rather, I have enlarged my world of logistics by encompassing a whole new and exciting industry using drone technology.
CFG: Matternet’s initial concept was to provide longer range solutions to serve rural regions. Meanwhile your company is focusing on urban areas. What caused this strategic shift, and has it paid off?
OE: Our vision has always been to create a new layer of transportation where surface infrastructure is inadequate: both in the developing world, where billions live far away from viable roads, as well as in the West, where cities desperately need new solutions in the air to manage growth while at the same time minimizing noise, pollution, various risks, and delays on the ground.
CFG: Your drones can uplift items weighing up to 2 kilograms. Is this weight-limit tailored to specific clients or business segments?
OE: We decided to focus our investment dollars on enabling safe operations over people and around buildings in cities, where we could build out a competitive edge. 80% of so-called last mile deliveries are for shipments of less than 2 kgs, over ranges of less than 20 kms. Having said that, we believe that public awareness and acceptance of air operations over cities will come through solutions specifically developed for the healthcare industry, where fast, reliable service can have a deep impact on patient welfare and opens up possibilities of far-reaching restructuring and improved usage of laboratory facilities.
CFG: Matternet drones are flying in the USA and in parts of Europe. Now Berlin seems to stand on your agenda, as does Abu Dhabi. Can you tell us more?
OE: We have already carried out a pilot on behalf of Labor Berlin, and the hospital companies they serve in Berlin (the world-famous Charité and Vivantes). Regular commercial operations are expected to start shortly, linking the hospitals to a central laboratory, which is a groundbreaking development for Germany.
In Abu Dhabi, we have teamed up with a new company, Skygo, to establish links to 40 healthcare locations within the Emirate, all in the next year, on behalf of the Ministry of Health. This is the first city-wide network of its kind anywhere in the world and marks a step change in the march of our industry towards every-day, safe, user-friendly solutions for the city of the future.
CFG: According to information, Matternet will launch a new drone variant next year. Can you deliver specifics?
OE: Our next generation vehicle will have an enlarged payload volume as well as an extended range: the date of entry of service is not yet determined.
CFG: Your company developed a multi-use drone hangar which is three meters high and resembles a flower or a mushroom. Is this rather unusual-looking structure enabling takeoffs, loading
processes, and landings of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, the next step in automating your drone services?
OE: Drones are only one element in a comprehensive suite of assets enabling safe, beneficial air transportation. Indeed, we have taken a major step forward towards full autonomy with the installation of our first commercial station at our client EOC’s hospital in Lugano, in cooperation with Swiss Post. The Station is multi-functional, receiving and sending the drone independently of receiving and releasing payload boxes by the laboratory staff. Batteries and boxes can be swapped robotically. In addition, drones can be temporarily parked in the station, and various checks required for safe operations are automatically executed.
CFG: Thank you for this interview and good luck with your drone project.
Alexander Norman, Global Operation Lead Matternet added to this:
"The Berlin project, but above all the delivery network we are establishing in Abu Dhabi in cooperation with our local partner Skygo, will raise our profile worldwide. This initiative will disrupt existing supply chain solutions by offering a faster, cost-effective, safer, and sustainable transport alternative. In turn, it should be beneficial for sales, spurring our global expansion efforts."
Addressing the status of a new drone model to complement the existing M2, he remained rather unspecific. It will offer “a little bit more payload combined with larger range." The drone probably won't be operational for a little more than a year.
Author: Heiner Siegmund
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