Drones are often used for unmanned transport tasks, such as delivering food and medical supplies to people in emergency situations. Currently, commercial drones can typically only carry 10% to 30% of their own mass as payload, which limits the amount of food delivered in a single flight. The University of Electro-Communications in Japan and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) are working together to develop edible robots for a wide variety of potential uses, particularly for disaster response.
“We thus propose a drone, which is no longer only a food transporting aircraft, but itself is partially edible, increasing its food-carrying mass ratio to 50%, owing to its edible wings,” their paper states. ‘Furthermore, should the edible drone be left behind in the environment after performing its task in an emergency situation, it will be more biodegradable than its non-edible counterpart, leaving less waste in the environment.’
Their prototype is a drone with edible wings, which could be used to quickly deliver emergency rations to those in distress. The wings are composed of rice crackers glued together with gelatin and contain around 300 calories. The aircraft can also carry around 80 grams of water.
Roughly half of the drone is edible by weight. The research team has the goal of raising this to approximately 75% – more than doubling the total amount of food it can deliver compared with a conventional drone.
“Our ultimate goal is to create food that’s like a robot,” Jun Shintake, an engineering associate professor at The University of Electro-Communications said. “We want to eventually make the whole thing out of food.”
In outdoor flight tests, the drone reached a speed of about 10 meters per second, and the wings remained intact. The team hopes to further improve durability and flight time toward the goal of commercializing the technology.