Following the $20 million sale (approx. £15 million) of his solar satellite venture to Facebook in 2014, engineer and adventure-junkie Nigel Gifford OBE is now developing a new drone project – an edible, disposable UAV called Pouncer.
The vehicle has been built to be dropped with extremely high accuracy into zones in need of emergency food rations, such as remote, difficult or war-torn areas.
The current format for this type of delivery involves military aircraft dropping rations using parachutes, but Gifford argued that this system is expensive and often wasteful.
Gifford explained that people in disaster zones are delivered a humanitarian daily ration (HDR), but that these do not necessarily take account of different cultures, religious beliefs, or diets. He added that the packs only contain 2,200 calories – most of which is unwanted or discarded.
While Pouncer is still in the design stage, the device is being developed to completely eliminate waste. Its wings will be made out of food, and segments in the main structure and wings will also carry water and food supplies. These staples, offering a calorific uptake per person of at least 3,500 calories, will be tailored specifically to suit the regional diet where the drone is operating.
The frame will also be made from wood, which can then be broken down and used for cooking and heating – leaving behind almost nothing of the original drone.
An on-board navigation system and cardboard fin will be able to steer the vehicle to within 10 metres of its target. According to Gifford, the drone’s long-range accuracy will allow it to be safely released at up to 21 miles away from the intended destination, unlike current parachute delivery systems which can only achieve a drop distance of three and a half miles.
Pouncer is currently at a Technical Readiness Level (TRL) of four, out of the required nine for licensed aircraft. Gifford hopes however that the technology will be ready for production within the next two years.