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Stanford Student Works On Drones Delivering Humanitarian Aid To War Zones, Disaster Areas

STANFORD (KPIX 5) -- In war zones, it's often too dangerous to send supplies by ground or conventional aircraft. A Stanford student has come up with a solution that could be used to aid people who are hungry or in need of medical attention.

"The humanitarian situation in Syria is one of the worst in the world," said Mark Jacobsen, a student pursuing his PhD at Stanford and executive director of Uplift Aeronautics.

For the thousands caught in the crossfire of the country's bloody civil war, starvation can be as brutal a weapon as any bomb or bullet.

"Entire neighborhoods are being starved out," Jacobsen said. "A lot of innocent people trapped in the middle."

Jacobsen is a man on a mission. "I'm a C-17 cargo pilot in the Air Force. So, my job is to deliver stuff into conflict zones," he said.

But to reach the people who need his help, the pilot and student realized that sometimes big ideas can take flight on the smallest of wings.

"People ask me why can't the U.S. do something, and I explain that we can't because large aircraft can get shot down. And it seemed to me that there might be a way to do this using small planes, large numbers of them," Jacobsen told KPIX 5.

Jacobsen and a team of volunteers launched a pilot program exploring the use of drones to drop valuable items, such as medicine or water purifiers, into war zones, where it's simply too dangerous to send supplies by ground or conventional aircraft.

"Most people are fundamentally looking for a way to make the world a better place," said Brandon Fetroe, director of engineering at Uplift.

Fetroe said the goal is for a single laptop to control a dozen or more drones, a swarm of small planes, flying in help and hope to areas where both are in desperately short supply.

"I have all of these engineering tools from school and my engineering background. The project gives me a good way to apply those tools to a problem that helps people," he said.

Jacobsen's team is raising money to test the technology in the field this summer, hoping to remove starvation from the arsenal of weapons with which the war in Syria is waged.

"If someone is trying to starve out a neighborhood, we can flood that place with food, with medicine, and send a message that the world won't stand for that," Jacobsen said.

Jacobsen's team has raised about half of the $50,000 they need to launch their pilot project in the Middle East this summer. They believe the technology could also be effective in disaster zones, such as areas of like Nepal damaged by recent earthquakes.

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