The U.S. military has started playing with paper airplanes. DARPA, the Defense Department’s technology lab, is funding research into inexpensive, biodegradable cardboard drones that can deliver supplies and then disappear, as the MIT Technology Review reports.
Designed by Otherlab, Aerial Platform Supporting Autonomous Resupply Actions (APSARA) gliders are made of heavy-duty cardboard that ships flat, like IKEA furniture. They’re cheap to mass-produce, so it’s not risky to send them into remote areas where the military might otherwise lose another pricey drone. Soldiers can assemble them in the field if necessary.
There’s no engine or battery, just a small set of electronics to allow the glider to navigate to its destination. They can carry 2.2 pounds (one kilogram) of blood, medicine, or other humanitarian supplies into areas that don’t have road or plane access, including onto the battlefield.
According to Otherlab’s press release, a military transport plane stocked with hundreds of pre-programmed cardboard gliders could deliver supplies to an area the size of California in one go. However, this design is just a trial run for the concept. According to Air & Space magazine, Otherlab plans to make the final product out of mycelium (living root structures from mushrooms) that could be activated when the glider is released. The spores would digest the frame, and within a few days, the drone would disappear completely.
If you thought the military’s drone programs were secretive now, just wait until they have drones that can eat themselves.
[h/t MIT Technology Review]