Preserving the Environment

The Drone That Can Decompose Without a Trace

November 24, 2014
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The Drone That Can Decompose Without a Trace
A prototype of the biodegradable drone made almost entirely of organic material. Courtesy Stanford-Brown-Spelman 2014 iGEM team
The green design won't harm any of the eco-sensitive places it's studying.

A drone that’s made from living things. Sounds like something straight out of Frankenstein, right?

Turns out, this drone, which is made by Evocative Design, is constructed (almost) entirely out of organic material that, in the event of getting irretrievably lost, will biodegrade. And while this may summon a plethora of spy images (The Atlantic reports of a study in which 70 percent of its 115 participants reported thinking ‘military’ upon hearing the word ‘drone’), Lynn Rothschild, head researcher at NASA’s Ames Research Center and Evocative Design collaborator, states that this was not their intent.

Rather, the biodrone’s intended purpose is to collect data on fragile ecosystems (i.e. coral reefs) without disturbing them. It is made from a root-like fungal material called mycellum, houses circuity printed in silver nanoparticle ink and is coated with bacteria grown sheets constructed of proteins cloned from the saliva of paper wasps.

“There are definitely parts that can’t be replaced by biology,” says team member Raman Nelakanti to New Scientist Magazine, though they’re now trying to create biodegradable sensors out of E. coli bacteria.

“No one would know if you’d spilled some sugar water or if there’d been an airplane there,” says Rothschild about the scene of a degrading drone.

The potential for this new technology is immense, but some still express concern over potential over usage.

Ella Atkins, aerospace engineer at University of Michigan and supporter of biodrones, cautions, “We don’t want biodegradable drones to rain down from the sky […] even if they will eventually biodegrade.”

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