If you’ve ever snacked on a rice cake, you may remember that the texture (and flavor) is pretty close to Styrofoam. It’s just that quality that made engineers think to use rice cakes as the wings of an edible lightweight drone. The craft’s wingspan of just over two feet provides about 300 calories, which could make a big difference to someone lost in the wilderness. And there’s still 80 grams left for the payload, which could include more food or about a third of a cup of water to wash down those rice cake wings.
In order to make the round rice cakes fit together, they were cut into hexagons with a laser cutter. The glue that holds them together also needs to be edible. The scientific team tested different adhesives made out of gelatin, chocolate, or cornstarch. They found that gelatin is the strongest option. The researchers next plan to experiment with making more parts of the drone edible. Using 3D-printed food could further lighten the craft.
The scientific team shared the research paper at a recent robotics conference. The design is part of the RoboFood project, a European initiative aiming to make edible robots. We learned about the tasty feat of engineering in IEEE Spectrum, which includes an Q&A with the project’s leader. It doesn’t answer a lingering question though. If you know where someone is well enough to fly a drone to them, why not just rescue them while you’re at it?
This is only one of the interesting search and rescue ideas we’ve come across recently. If you were lost or trapped, would you prefer a backpack-wearing rat, a lizard-shaped robot, or a rice cake drone come to your aid? If only those promises of drone-delivered burritos and pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream had come true, we wouldn’t have to resort to eating rice cakes.
Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth.