On February 23rd, 2017 we learned about

Biodegradable drone carries deliveries without creating unwanted debris

Sometimes the challenge of engineering isn’t how to create a device for a task, but how to get deal with it afterwards. In a world now populated by robots and drones on land, air and sea, we’re getting better at reaching nearly every nook and cranny on Earth. However, many of these trips might only be necessary in one direction, such as delivering temporary aid to a remote location, and so the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) solicited teams to build delivery systems that would leave minimal waste after delivering their payloads.

One-way cargo carrier

To construct what would essentially be a biodegradable drone, the team at Otherlabs in San Francisco started building large gliders out of cardboard. Called Aerial Platform Supporting Autonomous Resupply Actions (APSARA), the glider is capable of carrying around two pounds of various cargo, with particular interest in medical supplies like blood for transfusions that would need to be delivered in a limited time span to be helpful.

To start the trip, a glider would need to be dropped from altitude by some powered aircraft, from a more traditional drone to a cargo plane like a C-17. The APSARA glider, outfitted with a GPS unit, guidance system and minimal servo-powered wing flaps, would then descend to a predetermined location. Finishing its descent with a controlled corkscrew maneuver, the disposable drone should be able to land within 33 feet of its target destination.

Flying on fungal wings

Autonomously landing a drone is one thing, but the bigger excitement over APSARA is the materials involved. The cardboard prototypes proved to be strong enough to fly, while also being foldable, so that collections of these gliders can be flat-packed for shipping and larger deployments. While cardboard can biodegrade, Otherlabs is also looking to use mycelium, cellulose material from fungi, to strengthen the glider while avoiding any unwanted waste. Taking biodegradable drones even further, DARPA is also pushing the development of biodegradable electronic hardware, so that even the guidance system would break down after a few days.

Source: These biodegradable paper gliders can deliver lifesaving supplies to very remote regions by Matt Petronzio, Mashable

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