Current aerial resupply and aid vehicles, manned or unmanned, are costly. They are resource-intensive to build, difficult to mass manufacture and bound by take-off or landing installations.
For the purpose of overcoming these limitations, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), in 2015, announced a program called Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems (ICARUS). This program is a spin-off of another program by the name of Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR). With VAPR, DARPA wanted to develop technologies that could ‘vanish’ post-mission. The purpose was to ensure that the technology used in any device wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands.
The combination of these two programs resulted in the low-cost and biodegradable drones pictured above. DARPA funded a San-Francisco based startup, Otherlab, to create these heavy-duty cardboard delivery drones by combining computational design techniques and low-cost fabrication protocols for rapid development. These drones are part of a system named APSARA (Aerial Platform Supporting Autonomous Resupply Actions).
What can these biodegradable drones do?
These drones possess the capability of gliding up to 90kms from the drop-off point. They are controllable using a built-in mini-computer and some sensors. They are capable of carrying blood, vaccines and other medically-sensitive fluids. The current models of these drones are capable of carrying payloads up to 1kg. However, the team at Otherlab is confident that they can increase the payload to 10kg in future models.
An operational concept would have these drones released mid-air, by the hundreds, from a larger aircraft. Like a C-17 cargo plane. They will then glide from the drop-off point to the target to deliver supplies. Having achieved the objective these drones will then biodegrade within a couple of days.
What is the main application of a biodegradable drone?
The perfect use case for a biodegradable drone would essentially be to deliver goods to locations where humans cannot reach due to geographical constraints, natural calamity, active warfare, time.
Star Simpson, the hardware developer on the project has said that they are looking for commercial partnerships to bring this technology to the market.