Why should we pay for Silicon Valley's sins?

In building the Pouncer into a sustainable business model, we’re very aware that we have managed to grab headlines. Talk of ‘edible drones’ has lit the Internet alight with millions upon millions of views for the project. We have had major press from all over the globe, interviews on radio and in print, attended events and had all manner of feedback – positive and negative.

With all this flurry of activity the project has had a very strong light shone on it and we’re pleased to monitor all the coverage we get, read and understand the questions people have as this is one of the biggest tests any business will have – getting the project honestly looked at by others. Feedback, no matter what type is always welcome as it gives us insights into other thinking and helps us to generate a rounded view.

When Ian Bogost published his article in The Atlantic, we saw it, read it and agreed with, some, of what he’s saying. We even contacted him to see if there was a possibility of discussing it more with him as he had an original angle, but seemed to have misunderstood a couple of points. Our tweet was met with an oft-neglected single word but was taken as a ‘no’.

Then Ian was interviewed on the CBC radio show – again an interesting follow on from the article.

We launched the Pouncer to the world back in September and in just seven months we got global attention. It was obvious from the start we were going to be a lightening rod for opinions. Drones are the new black, and well, add a soupcon of edibility and you’re right in the middle of a situation where everyone wants to talk about you as the new fad.

There’s a couple of things missing from all the attention, that are crucial to the story and might shed some more light on elements that the likes of Ian are discussing, so we’d like to put those out there for him and others.

Edible: Nigel Gifford has worked with food from a very young age; indeed he’s three generations deep in catering. He’s a chef, he worked with the army in ration control, catering for expeditions, he wrote the Royal Geographical Societies Catering Manual, and prepared feeding programs over the years for people crossing oceans in small boats, crossing deserts with camels or in vehicles, the Polar Regions, or at high altitude, even living in balloon capsules, like Sir Richard Branson.

Flight: Nigel and the team are all experienced in aeronautics and have been in that realm for decades with all manner of aerial vehicles from parachutes to 747’s.

With this in mind and the service record of the team, here’s the brief: Nigel was talking with a friend in the military who was perplexed about Aleppo. He wanted to get aid into the city but couldn’t fly a plane over it and drop aid as there was a no fly zone, alongside a live fire situation, and there was no way they would risk the crew being shot down.

So they were thinking of drones, but they couldn’t carry a meaningful payload, they were too worried about getting them back and certainly didn’t want them falling into the hands of the wrong people. This was the quandary they desperately needed solving.

Nigel’s mixture of his past (Food/Aviation) means he was the right choice to talk to about this, as he would be able to mix his entire life’s work into one project. Hey presto, he said, ‘why not make the drone out of food and send it one way’. His answer was based on his knowledge of the two ingredients – food & aviation. Both had recent technological advances that meant they could both, at this point in time, be proposed as a solution.

This response was a reaction to a brief where people were in desperate need. With some thought and preparation the idea was more rounded and thoughts turned to applications for natural disasters such as earthquakes and anything whereby the infrastructure had been destroyed. The delivery system was versatile, cheap and could be used as another option for aid.

‘Although one might wonder why bright green airplanes might avert the notice of the corrupt and the hostile.’

Good point. Not every drone might make it through. But when you’re sending hundreds or thousands, there’s a good chance they can’t all be taken as a large palette or truck might be. With them coming down in different locations, some of which could have been pre-organised as safer zones away from know conflict and troop movements there’s more scope for success.

‘The product epitomizes the conceit of contemporary Silicon Valley. It adopts and commercializes a familiar technology for social and political benefit, but in such a simplistic way that it’s impossible to tell if the solution is proposed in earnest or in parody. Pouncer can be seen either as a legitimate, if unexpected, way to solve a difficult problem, or as the perfect example of the technology industry’s inability to take seriously the problems it claims to solve.‘

We’re based in Wells in Somerset… so not sure why we’re the poster child for Silicon Valley and have to pay for their many sins. Surely a parody of saving lives would be just cruel? I can assure you that no one in the company thinks saving lives isn’t serious. Aren’t ALL the best ideas simple? Occam's razor a.k.a K.I.S.S. has been a mantra for centuries, and in answering a posed problem, isn’t any answer conceptual until finalised?

How to feed the hungry after civil unrest or natural disaster? Fly in edible drones from the comfort of you co-working space. Problem solved!

If Nigel’s background was a mix of something else this response might not have given birth to the Pouncer, but that’s his background and why he was being asked the question by someone who wanted a solution that saved lives. Interesting that you’re associating it as being in some way detached from the problem (from the comfort of your co-working space) when the deployment will have to have aid agencies on the ground to fill, pack and deliver the aid, rather that the association of flying drones by wire from a remote bunker – job done. So in this it’s similar to a traditional parachute drop, which no one seems to have a problem with but is recognised as having failings.

Indeed if we were proposing parachute drops of food back in the day, we might get tarred with the same brush of absurdity. How to feed the hungry after civil unrest or natural disaster? Drop parachutes of food on them. Problem solved!

There are plenty of other discussion points in Ian’s writing and radio appearance, but this post is already long. We have nothing to hide so we’ll keep posting and clear other bits up as we go along.

Whatever we do with Pouncer it’ll still be a lightening rod for opinion as it’s out in the world and if there’s something the general populous is good at it’s offering an opinion. Our best response to any comments, for or against, is to get on with our job and deliver something that works. When the Pouncer is deployed and starts saving lives, it’ll all be worth the time spent and the journey.

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