Swiss researchers create edible drone for emergency scenarios

edible drone

It may not be the tastiest meal ever flown, but researchers in Switzerland have developed an edible drone designed to serve as life-sustaining nutrition for people stranded in emergency situations.

Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne created the edible drone by prioritizing caloric content over aerodynamics or technical sophistication. In fact, the only engineering requirement was for the craft to be able to fly to its destination without falling apart en route; from there, the focus was entirely on how it would deliver once inside the stomach of the person receiving it.

To make the edible drone concept (ahem) fly, the team used a thin, rudimentary fuselage, tail, and propeller unit strapped between two wings made of rice cakes. Those round crackers caught researchers’ attention for sharing the lightweight yet durable characteristics of expanded polypropylene packing foam. They relied on laser tech to cut the wafers into hexagon shapes that were then stuck together using gelatin as glue to form wings.

Those were enveloped in edible wrapping paper as protection against various sources of moisture that might provoke soggy decomposition ­ ­– though only after researchers had calculated the 700-centimeter wingspan required for the drone to deliver 300 kcal upon arrival (similar to the nutrition of an average breakfast). 

The lightness of component rice cakes left 80 grams of payload capacity remaining for transporting something else to the distressed recipient ­– no lattes or sides of hash browns, of course, but perhaps vitamins or a small amount of water to keep them going.

Read: Edible drones deliver humanitarian aid to people in need

General use cases for an edible drone vary and include delivering sustenance to someone stranded in an inaccessible spot as rescue is organized; survivors of natural catastrophes; or similarly urgent emergency situations where isolated people face long waits for succor. Potential complications in such scenarios – including strong winds or pelting rain – would produce evident challenges to the initial version of the UAV-as-a-meal concept, but work on it continues.

The project was presented at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robotics and Systems in Kyoto last month in a paper under the mouthful of a title, “Towards Edible Drones for Rescue Missions: Design and Flight of Nutritional Wings.” 

Read: Swiss researchers use automated drone system to battle pooping pigeons

The quartet of authors of the report (which is still not available to the public) are by no means pishers in the area of consumable vehicles and are associated with the European RoboFood initiative to develop various kinds of machines that, at some point, become the user’s lunch. The edible drone is an aerial variation of that research.

Bokeon Kwak, lead author of the paper, told the IEEE Spectrum covering the conference that moves are afoot to boost the caloric content of the edible drone by testing fat-based substances for use as glue, while still avoiding an excessive increase of the craft’s overall weight.

When asked what the device tasted like, Kwak offered the – frankly obvious – reply, “like a crunchy rice crisp cookie.” Then, in an apparent nod to the notorious blandness of those crackers, he added, “(n)o artificial flavor has been added yet.”

Image: IEEE Spectrum

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