Edible Drones Could Deliver Food to Nations in Crisis

A UK Aerospace company is developing an edible drone to deliver food to isolated and war-torn countries — but some see it as a gimmick rather than a viable tactic for helping solve hunger.

Drones have played a role in providing aid to nations in crisis all over the world. They're capable of accessing some areas better than airplanes and are relatively cheap to make.

And, according to one aerospace company, they may soon be edible.

Windhorse Aerospace is developing a drone prototype called Pouncer that will be made from edible material. The company will begin testing in April and hopes it will be delivering food to places like South Sudan, Yemen, and Somalia by the end of the year, the Financial Times reported.

Nigel Gifford, chairman and founder of Windhorse, previously worked on Richard Branson's logistics team when the Virgin Group founder attempted to circumnavigate the globe by hot air balloon.

"We are looking at a variety of foodstuffs that could be used," he told the Financial Times. "Honeycomb is really robust."

Gifford added that they're also considering salami for use in the landing gear because of its "good tensile strength and flexibility."

Pouncer will be able to deliver supplies within an accuracy of 23 feet and could feed up to 100 people a day for around $300, according to Windhorse.

Some aid organizations aren't quite as excited as Gifford.

"This is someone who's come up with a crackpot idea based on the assumption that technology can solve all problems," Kevin Watkins, chief executive of Save the Children, told the Financial Times.

Watkins said he had just returned from Somalia, where over 1 million children are acutely or severely malnourished due to the country's severe drought.

"Many are in a life-threatening situation," he said. "One episode of pneumonia or diarrhea will tip them over the edge. This is where you need the mechanism of state to kick in. This is not drone territory. It's ridiculous."

But Windhorse maintains that Pouncer is the right solution for quick-response disaster relief.

"While of course we respect everyone's view as to the effectiveness of drones/UAVs for humanitarian aid delivery, especially those on the ground, it's early days and I don't think one solution fits all requirements or scenarios," Rob Forrester of Windhorse's business development team said in an email to Seeker. "Pouncer is intended primarily for short-term disaster relief into hard to reach areas delivering much larger payloads than currently possible."

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Windhorse says organizations like Médecins Sans Frontières and Oxfam have shown interest in his technology.

"It may be a drop in the ocean as far as fixing famine on the planet is concerned, but it could be used for regular re-supply if no other means are possible or too dangerous for crews to operate," Forrester said. "We're not trying to step on anyone's toes here - we see our solution as working alongside current solutions where suitable."

Watkins said Save the Children has used drones successfully in delivering medicine, including several programs in Tanzania and Rwanda that bring plasma to women during childbirth.

Drones are "good at killing people and blowing things up," Watkins said. "They are absolutely irrelevant for resolving acute hunger."

Windhorse downplayed the edible aspect of its drone and emphasized its potential benefit in food delivery.

"We will obviously be sending all NGOs invitations to our flight trials later in the year," Forrester said. "We hope we can demonstrate to the open-minded that in some situations, a sack out of the back of a transport aircraft may not be the most effective way of safely getting aid supplies to the right hands on the ground."

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