Windhorse Aerospace is a UK start-up with a thoroughly modern take on humanitarian aid: an edible drone.
The use of drones for search and rescue has been well documented, but Somerset-based Windhorse Aerospace wants to take a much more proactive approach to helping people in need.
People facing starvation in the wake of natural disasters such as drought or civil unrest – as in the food crisis currently unfolding in East Africa – could be supported by WindHorse Aerospace’s ‘Pouncer’, an edible drone packed with supplies to keep survivors alive until help arrives on the ground. The drone is a suggested upgrade on parachute drops and other, slower and less accurate forms of humanitarian aid.
The Pouncer drone is still in development, but the Windhorse Aerospace team has already released an outline of what governments and NGOs can expect from the aircraft, which it will begin testing next month. Founder Nigel Gifford believes Pouncer’s benefits revolve around safety, accuracy and speed – especially in comparison to current humanitarian aid delivery methods.
Firstly, autonomous, GPS-powered flight will deliver supplies to within seven metres of their target destination. Importantly, these flights can be launched from 35km away, a degree of distance that will ensure humanitarian crews are not also put at risk during aid efforts. Second, Pouncer is designed to be completely non-recoverable. As well as its wings being made out of edible material, the airframe is intended to break up to provide shelter and fuel.
The largest Pouncer aircraft will have a wingspan of nine feet. A prototype will be tested in the UK in April.
Not everyone is onboard with the edible drone
Perhaps after hearing of Gifford’s plan to use both honeycomb and salami as part of his edible aircraft, Kevin Watkins, chief executive of Save the Children, had a few choice words to share on the subject with the Financial Times.
“This is someone who’s come up with a crackpot idea based on the assumption that technology can solve all problems,” he said. “Many [currently in Somalia] are in a life-threatening situation. One episode of pneumonia or diarrhoea will tip them over the edge.” Something more serious is needed, he pointed out: “This is where you need the mechanism of state to kick in. This is not drone territory. It’s ridiculous.”
But drones do save lives
Despite regular reports of ‘near misses’ and outcry over dangerous situations resulting from the use of drone technology, a study by leading manufacturer DJI this week found that drones are actually responsible for saving 59 people from life-threatening danger. The report is the latest in a line of positive public promotions from DJI, in a move that seems to indicate the world’s most popular drone company is single-handedly trying to improve the reputation of the industry.
But there are more direct examples of drones providing urgent support to rural communities. American start-up Zipline has already received significant funding and started to autonomously deliver medical supplies to remote parts of Rwanda.
The company is using its fleet of drones to transport blood, medicine and supplies to areas that need it most, reducing the delivery time of emergency medicine from four hours to as little as 15 minutes.