Every Sale of This Edible Pouncer Drone Can Save 50 Lives
Migel 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.”
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.”
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