AI-powered robotic vehicles are set to transform humanitarian efforts by delivering food parcels to conflict and disaster zones, reducing risks faced by aid workers. The World Food Programme (WFP) plans to test these vehicles without drivers in South Sudan through the AHEAD project in collaboration with the German Aerospace Center (DLR). By leveraging AI technology, these vehicles can navigate remote areas, combining data from various sources and allowing remote drivers to steer them.
GENEVA, 7 July 2023 – AI-powered robotic vehicles could revolutionize humanitarian efforts by delivering food parcels to conflict and disaster zones as early as next year, according to a World Food Programme (WFP) official. The initiative aims to safeguard the lives of humanitarian workers amidst the increasing number of attacks against them in recent years.
Bernhard Kowatsch, Head of the WFP’s innovation department, highlighted the importance of leveraging AI technology to address the risks faced by aid workers. Speaking at a conference organized by the International Telecommunication Union in Geneva, Kowatsch emphasized the potential of AI in achieving UN global goals, particularly in eliminating hunger.
The amphibious trucks, capable of carrying approximately 1-2 tonnes of food each, were initially conceptualized during the battle for Syria’s Aleppo between 2012 and 2016. The trucks aim to overcome challenges faced by humanitarian workers in accessing besieged areas. Traditional methods such as air drops were expensive and required large spaces that were not readily available in certain regions.
While the WFP currently uses around 50 of these vehicles in South Sudan, they still require drivers. However, through the AHEAD (Autonomous Humanitarian Emergency Aid Devices) project in collaboration with the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the WFP plans to test the vehicles without drivers in early 2023. AI technology will be utilized to integrate data from various sources, including satellites and sensors, enabling remote drivers to navigate the vehicles.
South Sudan, where severe food insecurity affects approximately 7.7 million people and flooding poses challenges to access, will be the first location for the implementation of these AI-powered robotic vehicles.