Pouncer: The Solution to Humanitarian Aid Delivery

Created by: Windhorse Aerospace

Presentation written by: Dayene Da Silva, dayene.dasilva@gmail.com

Presentation supervised by: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Elena M. Barbu, elena.barbu@univ-grenoble-alpes.fr

Introduction

Imagine if there was a speedy and risk-free way to deliver food to the victims of the Palu Tsunami in Indonesia. Perhaps, more lives would have been spared. When thinking of relief and humanitarian aid, innovation is not the first thing that comes to mind. The reality is that technology and innovation seem like an outcry from disasters zones but it doesn’t have to be. In the age of technological advances, it seems logical to use innovative strategies to make humanitarian and relief aid delivery more effective. However, where do we start? There is so much that could be innovated within humanitarian aid.

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, there are over 800 million people that are hungry on this earth and the vast majority in developing countries (UNFAO, 2018). To make matters even more complicated, there are areas of difficult or risky access, such as conflict areas. In those areas it is unsafe to transport food by car or by plane because the risks of being attacked or shot down are too high. Furthermore, airdrops via parachutes can sometimes miss their mark and land on inexact location so the current humanitarian aid delivery methods are not very reliable.

  1. Presentation of the Innovation

What if there was a way, perhaps, a drone that could secure the delivery of food and other essential items to inaccessible areas? Drones have been used in the past to deliver medication to inaccessible areas, so why not go a step further? This is becoming closer to reality with the creation of the Pouncer, the solution to humanitarian and relief aid. Windhorse Aerospace is the British company behind this creation, a drone unlike any other because it is edible. It has the capability to carry food and be made of food therefore nothing goes to waste. The Pouncer can provide food and water to areas of conflict or natural disasters. It is designed to go where there are no means of communication or transportation to reach survivors.

Nigel Gifford, an aeronautical engineer and adventurer, created the start-up Windhorse Aerospace in 2016 (Field, 2018). The company is located in Yeovil, England, where Gifford and an experienced team developed the innovative Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) named Pouncer (Field, 2018). He thought of the idea for the drone when he and a Royal British Force officer were discussing how to send food to people in Aleppo, Syria (ibid.). Gifford is best known for the solar–powered drone company, Ascenta, sold to Facebook in 2014 (ibid.). He criticized the way current aid is dropped over disaster and conflict areas from planes using parachutes as “wasteful and expensive (Colson, 2016). He also felt the current Humanitarian Daily Ration (HDR) used is “one size, fits all” providing a pack with 2,200 calories but not taking into consideration diet, culture and religious beliefs (ibid). Therefore, some of the food is not consumed.

The inspiration for the Pouncer came from Gifford’s background in adventure. He has done expeditions to Mount Everest and countless parachute jumps. He also specialized in feeding in hostile environments during his time at the army. The idea of the Pouncer came from skydiving; after asking a wing-suit flyer how far she could travel using the suit (Colson, 2016). Windhorse’s main mission is to be the go-to business for humanitarian aid and revolutionize the way food is delivered in relief areas. The drone is being financed by lead singer of Iron Maiden, Bruce Dickinson, and former Airbus executive, Andrew Morgan (Sit, 2017).

  1. Characteristics of the Pouncer

The Pouncer is currently in-development and initial testing was scheduled for mid-2018 but so far there isn’t much information available except that it should be ready to be deployed for its first mission in 2019. The Pouncer is an unpowered, lightweight glider drone intended to be air-launched and guided by GPS, landing within eight meters from its target (Military Factory; Bryce, 2017). The maximum release altitude is 7,600 meters and the glide range is 100 kilometers (Anderson, 2016). They are also working on a ground launch catapult system as another option to get the drone airborne (ibid.). There are three different sizes in development that can travel various distances.

The three current models (Dwyer, 2018):

    Name:         Load capacity:

  • Mark 1              20 kilograms of goods
  • Mark 2              50 kilograms of goods
  • Mark 3              100 kilograms of goods

The mid-size drone will carry 50 kilograms being able to feed up to 100 people a day (Bryce, 2017). The largest drone has a wingspan of nine-feet (Kesteloo, 2018) and a transparent waterproof frame (Dwyer, 2018). The wing structure is made of food, that is yet to be determined, and the main body compartments will be filled with food tailored specifically to the region the drone will be delivered to, taking into consideration regional diets based on cultural or religious beliefs; something that is not currently done in humanitarian food delivery. Their prototype is made from wood, which they initially thought it could later be used for cooking and heating, leaving hardly anything left of it. They now aim to build a frame made with completely edible materials to completely eliminate waste (ibid.; Field, 2018).

  1. Impacts of the Innovation

Drone safety is one of the reasons why development is taking longer than anticipated. Because the drone is unmanned they need to be certain that the drone will be safe to fly in a country’s air space (Field, 2018). As of 2016, it was in the technology and readiness level 4 (TRL4) out of 9 stages, per NASA (Anderson, 2016) and they now hope to be ready for launch in 2019. Moreover, a worrying factor was whether this drone would be cost effective. The cost of manufacture of the drone is approximately $130 and around $65 for the GPS and flight control system (Anderson, 2016). The cost of an airdrop is approximately $1000 per ton of food, while by truck it costs 80% less (Cole, 2017). However, delivery by truck is not always possible because of the high risks involved and airdrops are usually used as a last resort because it is expensive and it’s landing location is inexact. Thus, the Pouncer is an affordable alternative, since it’s for a single use, it must be low-cost and its navigation system gives it a more precise landing. It is safer to deliver over conflict zones because it can be air launched 21 miles away from it’s target zone, a big difference when compared to the parachute delivery that have to be 3.5 miles away from its target (Colson, 2016). Another worry is whether the production of the drone is time consuming. For example, in a natural disaster crisis, how long would it take to produce enough drones to feed those affected? Especially since the drones will be customized by the regional diet, although it sounds like an excellent idea it might not be practical when it comes to an emergency. Ultimately, research and development is of key importance for them as they undertake a capability assessment of specific foods to change the shape of the product to decrease wasted space (Business West). They are testing out the food to make sure it can withstand the journey, and have experimented vacuum-packed packaging (Field, 2018).

Many humanitarian agencies are skeptical and need further convincing because they don’t believe the drone will work for an ample food distribution. Another criticism is that they would be using communities at risk to test the product as “lab rats.” Due to risk and ethical considerations, humanitarian agencies are usually conservative when it comes to trying something new (Ramalingam, 2011). Save the Children’s Chief executive, Kevin Watkins, has stated that drones may be useful for medicine delivery but that it has no role in resolving hunger (Pilling, 2017). Their skepticism is understandable because the Pouncer’s development stage is taken longer than anticipated and a small chance of not coming to fruition and humanitarian agencies cannot afford to take such risks when so many lives are at stake. Of course, all this has to be taken into account but at this point the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

Conclusion

In conclusion, although the development of the Pouncer is taking longer than expected, if successful, it will definitely revolutionize humanitarian delivery methods. Windhorse Aerospace is a for-profit company but their goal is to assist non-profits and other first aid responders to deliver food and other supplies to those in need.

Therefore, this innovation is certainly strategic because it’s not only creating a competitive product but it will definitely generate value for the company because an edible drone is a breakthrough. It is a responsible innovation because Gifford, saw the need for a more effective humanitarian delivery method and he did something about it. His innovation, if successful, will impact thousands of lives and perhaps open doors for other innovations within humanitarian aid.

Even though there is some skepticism, this innovation is definitely worth exploring. However, working alongside a humanitarian agency would make this innovation more feasible because the agency can contribute the humanitarian knowledge that engineers may lack. Drones nowadays have a negative connotation attached to them but the Pouncer could change our view regarding drones because it has no negative impact on the environment and it’s essentially a drone that saves lives.

Bibliography

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Bryce, E. (2017) Every Sale of this Edible Pouncer Drone can Save 50 Lives. https://www.wired.co.uk/article/edible-pouncer-drone-humanitarian-aid

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