AI-powered robotic vehicles could deliver food parcels to conflict and disaster zones by as early as next year in a move aimed to spare the lives of humanitarian workers, a World Food Programme (WFP) official told Reuters.
Attacks against aid workers have intensified in recent years amid the highest number of violent conflicts since World War Two, according to the United Nations. WFP, the U.N.’s food aid agency, alone lost three workers earlier this year in Sudan’s conflict.
“Sometimes it’s too dangerous to send in a driver or WFP staff. So using that technology could actually be a step change,” said Bernhard Kowatsch, who heads the WFP’s innovation department.
Kowatsch was speaking on the sidelines of a conference organised by the International Telecommunication Union in Geneva to make the case for AI to help reach U.N. global goals, such as eliminating hunger.
The trucks are amphibious and can carry about 1-2 tonnes of food each. They were first conceived during the battle for Syria’s Aleppo, between 2012 and 2016, when humanitarian workers struggled to get aid to besieged parts of the city, Kowatsch said.