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A Tech Company Hopes These Edible Drones Will Help End World Hunger

Some organisations are speaking out against the drones, with the chief executive of Save the Children calling them a "crackpot idea."

by Brent Crane
23 March 2017, 9:00am

Salami is, according to British drone manufacturers Windhorse Aerospace, "physically strong with good tensile strength and flexibility," which makes it a good option for landing gear.

A little background: The firm is currently developing what would seem to be the world's first edible drone. Honeycomb and compressed vegetables are other proposed materials for the prototype.

The Pouncer, as the drone is called, will be up to nine feet in wingspan, and will be used chiefly for humanitarian purposes: delivering, and ultimately serving itself as, food aid. The prototype, which will be tested in Britain this April, is expected to bring food into such famine-stricken nations as Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria, and Sudan by the end of the year, Windhorse chairman and founder Nigel Gifford told the Financial Times earlier this month. Those countries are currently facing what a senior UN official described recently as the gravest food crisis since World War II.

Gifford, a professional adventurer who helped manage logistics for Richard Branson's attempt to circumnavigate the planet by hot air balloon, hopes that the Pouncer will be able to deliver food to places unreachable by conventional means of aid delivery, such as trucks and air drops. The salami/honeycomb/vegetable drone should be able to deliver food within 20 or so feet of accuracy, Gifford told FT, before it can then land and be devoured. The accuracy part is important, Gifford said: Much of the food airdropped over Aleppo last year went into the stomachs of ISIS fighters, he noted as one example.

The potentially delicious drone is not the first to deliver humanitarian aid. Zipline, a Silicon Valley firm, began a campaign in October which delivers medical supplies across rural Rwanda by catapult-launched, GPS-guided drones. In December, the British government announced that it would fund a similar program in Tanzania.

READ MORE: The WFP Wants to End Global Hunger in 15 Years

But something about the digestible nature of Windhorse's drone did not sit right with Save the Children's chief executive Kevin Watkins, who had just returned from Somalia and had nothing good to say about the comestible flyer. "This is someone who's come up with a crackpot idea based on the assumption that technology can solve all problems," he told FT, adding that drones are "good at killing people and blowing things up. They are absolutely irrelevant for resolving acute hunger."

In response to Watkins, Rob Forrester, a member of Windhorse's business development team, told MUNCHIES by email that "Pouncer is intended primarily for short-term disaster relief into hard to reach areas… providing support" until more effective means become available. "In these scenarios, we have been told the opposite—this is exactly what is needed right now," he wrote.

"We're not trying to step on anyone's toes here–we see our solution as working alongside current solutions WHERE SUITABLE [sic] but surely using such technology to the benefit of humanity rather than to its detriment should be investigated before being dismissed out of hand. Time will tell."

The project, if successful, might spur similar technologies. Just imagine: cluster bombs as Pez dispensers; flame-throwers as Nutella sprayers; rocket-propelled vegetables. With such a vision, the sky's the limit.