Drones for Peace – a Moonshot

UAV network could transport medicine across Africa for less than $1M


One billion people in the world have no access to all-season roads. At current development rates, Africa will not match first world infrastructure for fifty years.

Andreas Raptopoulos’ radical proposal starts with the notion that Africa should not follow the infrastructure development path that North America has taken. Instead he proposes a series of UAVs to transport medical supplies and samples over the “Matternet”.

The Matternet he envisions is a logistics network covering the entire continent of Africa that controls the flow of physical goods. The three major components are the autonomous vehicles, autonomous ground stations and the AI-driven logistics program.

The drone’s current technology enables them to fly up to 40 km/hour at a 400 foot altitude, in any weather conditions and temperature ranges. Their lift to drag ratio will be comparable to a helicopter, allowing for vertical takeoff and landing.

Inside the UAVs will be a compartment that holds around two kilograms of physical goods and a battery pack.

Groundstations are designed to be secure areas where drones can drop off their payloads and obtain new flight directives. Flight will be controlled mainly through GPS but several other sensors will serve as backup.


Andreas says that over the life of the project the cost to move two kilograms over ten kilometers is a shockingly low $0.24.


The large scale test area being targeted is the country of Lesotho, where around 400,000 people are infected with HIV/AIDS. The country encompasses more than 30,000 square kilometers with 152 clinics and 19 hospitals.

Every patient needs to be tested twice a year, but there aren’t enough people to run the samples from the clinics to the hospitals.

Focusing on the area of Maseru, a mini Matternet is being developed. There are 47 clinics taking samples and six labs that can test the samples in a 138 square kilometer area.

For Raptopoulos to service the area with fifty ground stations and one hundred fifty vehicles the projected cost is $900,000. Coincidentally the cost to construct two kilometers of one lane road is estimated to be $1,000,000.


His long term vision is that the Matternet can do for physical transport what the internet has done for transporting information. Imagine a drone network throughout cities, flying autonomously above the road network, reducing traffic congestions and speeding delivery of physical goods.  It’s exciting to think of the possibilities if this vision were to be fully realized.