Lifesaving Paper Planes
By Lori & Nicole Leo
Remember the paper planes we used to make when we were children? Some of us would write a wish on our plane before sending it on its way. Now paper planes are no longer just a toy of our past —they hold great promise for a better future.
In 2017, an innovative San Francisco-based robotics startup called Otherlab set out to develop single-use delivery drones. The result was the APSARA drone, officially known as the Aerial Platform Supporting Autonomous Resupply Actions drone.
It is a glider made of cardboard sheets put together using a folding process and tape. Measuring about one meter in length, it can carry up to two pounds of cargo. The drone is fitted with Global Positioning System (GPS) and actuators to control the movement of its wings and aerial trajectory.
Being compact, lightweight, low cost and deployable at scale, the APSARA drone is a superior vehicle which can be used during humanitarian emergencies or defense situations. It will prove extremely useful for delivering critical food or medical supplies to rural, disaster-stricken or conflict zones, for instance in times of floods, landslides or disease outbreaks.
According to APSARA project engineer Star Simpson, cardboard is used as a prototype because the material is easy to work with. The cardboard shell of the APSARA drone will disintegrate in a few months.
For future products the company intends to use mycelium, which is derived from mushrooms and will biodegrade in just a few days. Otherlab is also researching ephemeral electronics so that the parts within the drone can likewise disintegrate over time. These drones are designed to be ecologically friendly, mitigating the negative environmental impact typical of standard delivery methods.
The APSARA drone makes it possible for us to envision an unprecedented future of logistics, one in which our skylines could be speckled with drones carrying important supplies to where they are most critically needed. Who would have thought the paper planes of our childhood could evolve into lifesaving drones?