Via Wired.com. When drones save lives, not kill!
Every sale of this edible Pouncer drone can save 50 lives
Aquila inventor Nigel Gifford’s Pouncer drone is capable of real humanitarian aid
Nigel Gifford makes drones with a difference. His humanitarian UAV, the Pouncer, is designed to deliver food aid in disaster zones – by being edible itself. That may sound unlikely, but Gifford, 70, has a history of succeeding with unconventional projects. He’s the Somerset-based engineer behind Aquila, the Wi-Fi-beaming drone bought by Facebook in 2014 to connect 1.6 billion humans to the internet.
In 2010, Gifford imagined Aquila (originally named Ascenta) as a high-altitude drone that could be used to beam internet or mobile-phone connectivity to civilians below.
“I absolutely believed in what we were doing; I could see how this could be a major benefit in communications applications,” he says. The UAV was designed with solar panels that would give it enough power to stay airborne for 90 days, with a flexible central section that could adapt to securely carry any cargo.
The call from Facebook dramatically changed Ascenta’s fate. It bought the drone for a reported $20 million (£16 million). Now with an enlarged wingspan the size of a commercial airliner, Aquila made its first successful flight – a 96-minute cruise above Yucca, Arizona – on June 28, 2016. Gifford is delighted: “For what it started out as and has now become, it’s super.”
Post-sale, Gifford’s new company Windhorse Aerospace has focused its energies on the Pouncer, a UAV whose three-metre-wide hull can enclose vacuum-packed foods. Its structure will be made from as yet unspecified baked components that can be consumed. “It will have a 50kg payload that should feed 100 people for one day,” Gifford says. GPS will guide it to within eight metres of its target. Windhorse Aerospace will be testing its capabilities in the spring; by late 2017, it will be in production.
Will Gifford sell this drone, like Ascenta? “We have the vision; we want to take it through to development,” he says. But any partnership allowing the Pouncer to be rapidly deployed would be a priority. “The key is getting the Pouncer used for humanitarian aid,” he says. “If this existed now it would be saving lives in Syria.”