A UK company has developed a lightweight edible drone that could deliver life-saving supplies to remote areas in times of disaster or conflict.
The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), named Pouncer, which costs £150 ($183) is made of an edible, starch-based thermoplastic and can either be eaten or used as shelter after being delivered to recipients.
The drone's main feature is its 3m wingspan containing compartments that can be filled with 50kg of vacuum-packed food, water and medical supplies and delivered directly to people stuck in disaster zones.
According to developers at Windhorse Aerospace, the company behind the drone, the Pouncer could be launched from a military aircraft or from ground sites in the first hours of a disaster and deliver enough food to feed 80 people for a day.
Nigel Gifford, ex-army catering officer and founder of Somerset-based Windhorse Aerospace, told The Times that the concept was inspired by the vast distances skydiving wing suits could travel.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
The team financially backing the drone include Bruce Dickinson, entrepreneur and lead singer of the heavy metal band Iron Maiden, and former Airbus executive Andrew Morgan.
The designers say 90 edible drones could be loaded onto a Hercules C-130 transport aircraft and when launched from 10,000 feet, will glide for 22 miles, using an internal steering system, which can potentially deliver supplies to more than 7,000 people.
According to Gifford, the project has already attracted interest from aid organisations Medicins San Frontier (MSF), International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, the World Health Organisation, the Red Cross and Airbus.
Gifford told Reuters that his drone could deliver humanitarian aid to within 7m of its intended target, giving it an advantage over airdrops.
“In combat zones like we have in Aleppo or Mosul nothing will work except what we have,” he said.
“With parachuted air drops the problem is you can’t guarantee where the loads will land.
“In Aleppo we could have put aid straight into some of the streets and we could have done that out of the sight of ISIS [Islamic State].”
In December, Windhorse presented the Pouncer to Britain’s aid minister Priti Patel in the hopes of gaining financial backing.
Initial testing is scheduled for May and the drone should be ready to be deployed on its first mission by the end of the year.
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