Otherlab’s cardboard drone can carry up to 2 lbs, then decompose

Drones provide very useful services, especially for hard-to-reach areas, but flying expensive metal and objects into places where getting them back afterwards might be difficult isn’t always the ideal option. SF-based Otherlab had another idea, Wired reports: make drones that can work in single-use capacities, carrying lightweight payloads and then disappearing.

The idea isn’t entirely plucked from the ether – Otherlab’s Apsara, or ‘Aerial Platform Supporting Autonomous Resupply Actions’ drone, is partly funded by DARPA, which set the goal of having something developed that could deliver small payloads to a target area, but that would also leave no trace once it had succeeded.

Apsara is a glider as a result, with a cardboard frame that spans three feet at its widest point, and is constructed using a folding process that also employs tape to make sure things stay where they should. The use of cardboard means the whole shell will be gone in a few months, but the team at Otherlab wants this stuff to go away even quicker – it’s working on using a material created using mushrooms called “mycelium” that will biodegrade completely in just a few days.

Of course, the drone has electronics – otherwise it’d be little more than a heavy, large paper airplane. There are two actuators to move the wings and control its aerial trajectory, and there’s also a GPS unit that helps it know where it actually is. Thanks to these electronics, it can land within 50 feet of a programmed landing zone, which is close enough to be very useful – to DARPA and others.

Eventually, the electronics could become as temporary as the drone itself, thanks to research DARPA Is doing into components that also degrade over time. The end result would be a small, nearly silent craft that disappears without a trace over the course of a few days and that can carry up to two pounds per flight. That sounds like it might be very interesting to a defence agency, for instance.

There’s also another potential use, which Wired notes: Otherlab spin-out Everfly wants to create similar drones that can provide delivery services for supplies including food stores, with a plan to scale the design to where it can carry up to 22 pounds, while still retaining its low impact and single-use advantages.