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    Tuesday, 21 February 2017

    Delivering Humanitarian Aid via Edible Drones

    The Pouncer Drone   - Img: Futurist/YouTube 
    Disasters both natural and man-made continue to ravage our planet and its population on a daily basis. That is, unfortunately, the sad truth of the matter; somebody is always suffering. Providing aid to such areas is a significant struggle – doing so in an efficient and effective manner even more so.

    Currently, the vast majority of humanitarian aid sent to disaster zones is delivered via airdrop from a military aircraft - a system described by Nigel Gifford (the same man who sold satellite company Ascenta to Facebook for £12.5million back in 2014) as “wasteful and expensive”.

    Not one to simply criticise without being constructive, Mr Gifford, alongside his development team at Windhorse Aerospace, is in the process of providing a solution in the form of his new edible drone known as the Pouncer.

    Constructed using a combination of lightweight wood, extruded vegetable spars and a form of edible, starch-based thermoplastic, the drone is designed to efficiently provide first-response assistance to disaster areas. The fuselage and any other spaces within the 3-metre wingspan will also be filled with colour-coded meals, water, medicine and other provisions. The team are placing particular importance on ensuring that the food provided suits “geographical, cultural, nutritional, and even indigenous needs”. Speaking to Business Insider, Mr Gifford spoke of how this new approach could substantially cut down on waste:

    Nigel Gifford   - Img: ozoneering
    “At the moment, people in a disaster zone are issued with something called a humanitarian daily ration (HDR),

    “An HDR doesn’t recognise culture, religious beliefs, or diet - you get issued with a pack that has 2,200 calories in it, and that's it. Most of the time it's wasted.”

    The components that cannot be consumed as a food source can instead be used to provide fuel or shelter, so no part of the drone is allowed to go to waste.

    The Pouncer drone actually has many more benefits than just the aforementioned reduction in waste. For one, accuracy – whereas the airdrops currently used are capable of delivering supplies within fairly close range of their intended target, with the Pouncer drone this margin of error is as little as 10 metres. They can also be deployed from up to 21 miles away when launching from a plane flying at 10,000 feet; current airdrop systems have a range of about 3.5 miles, making the drone the much safer option is hostile airspace.

    Speaking to The Times, Mr Gifford shed some light as to where the inspiration for the drone came from:

    “The design was inspired by a skydiver’s wingsuit and the amazing distances they cover,

    “I’m a skydiver and have a background in getting food to people in hostile terrain going back to my army days, so you can see how the idea came about.

    “The Pouncer would have been ideal for the Nepal earthquake of 2015. You could fly down a valley and get supplies to all the cut-off villages in one run. It would have also been a good solution in a situation like the Aleppo siege, where you’re dealing with hostile airspace.” 

    It all sounds rather exciting, but there are still a few potential hiccups to work out. My primary concern after researching the project is an issue of cleanliness – if the entire drone is supposed to be edible, how do you ensure that it is still free of contaminants and safe to consume after a 21 mile flight?

    Another issue I expect them to encounter is birds. It is a well-documented fact that birds of prey will target smaller drones believing them to be a food source. How much worse will this issue be when the drones actually are? They’ll be plucked out of the sky left, right and centre.

    The only solution I can immediately see to both these issues is to package the drone in some way, protecting the food from the elements and animals. However, that would rather undermine the entire point of a drone meant to be consumed in its entirety, and brings back the problem of waste.

    There is certainly some work still to be done then, it seems. If the team can find a way to circumvent these issues however, the Pouncer drone could become a staple of humanitarian aid efforts around the globe. I for one look forward to it.


    Sam Bonson

    Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.
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    Item Reviewed: Delivering Humanitarian Aid via Edible Drones Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Food Safety Co
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