Through its Boeing HorizonX Ventures investment arm, Boeing led a round of funding in US-based Matternet, which the company will use to expand US and global operations of its on-demand drone delivery platform for urban deliveries. The funding round also included investments from Swiss Post, Sony Innovation Fund, and Levitate Capital, and raised US$16 million.
Matternet’s delivery platform includes its Matternet M2 Drone, Matternet Station, and Matternet Cloud. The drone is designed to carry cargo payloads up to 2 kg over distances of up to 20 km and has operated in Switzerland and the US, with its cargo operations aimed mainly at delivering healthcare-related cargo in urban environments. Matternet has been authorized for full operations in Swiss urban areas since March 2017, and was selected for a US hospital drone pilot program in May 2018.
The recent introduction of several cargo drone systems for last-mile delivery indicates the technology is in place to begin integrating unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operations into regular last-mile cargo service, but one of the main headwinds has been the difficulty of those operations in densely populated areas.
Matternet has so far managed to overcome that problem, as according to the company, it has carried out more than 1,700 flights over densely populated areas with a perfect safety record – a record that Boeing likely found especially attractive. Of the investment, Boeing HorizonX Ventures’ managing director, Brian Schettler, said that Matternet’s technology and operations to-date make the development of “a safe, global autonomous air mobility system a near-term reality.”
This most recent investment, along with Boeing’s own work on drone development, indicates the potential Boeing sees for UAVs in cargo delivery. In addition to its investment in Matternet, Boeing unveiled its own fully-functional prototype in January of this year, and took part in a separate funding round for drone software company Kittyhawk earlier this month. Boeing’s own prototype is notable for its potential as a stepping stone toward larger drones capable of long-distance deliveries. As Boeing told our sister publication Air Cargo World, the eventual goal is to offer options giving customers “the ability to carry hundreds of pounds over broad distances in a way that makes it useful and relevant to them.”