May it be a military grade autonomous drone or the world’s smallest UAV, they offer terrific performance in their respective fields. The 21st century has bought in some new innovations in drone technology and with this rapid advancement, we are faced with new challenges and hurdles. The exponential increase in the usage and production of drones has also brought in an environmental hazard. Several of these drones crash and leave behind a trail of debris including plastic and metallic parts which may prove toxic to the environment.
NASA, along with scientists from Stanford collaborated on a project to address this issue and ended up making the Fungus Drone. This drone, made out of biodegradable material can simply decompose into the surroundings leaving behind scarce footprints of its existence. The Fungus Drone is a prototype created mostly of organic materials.
The chassis of the drone is made up of a root-like fungal material called Mycelium. It was grown inside a custom mold in a lab by a company called Ecovative Design who is also using this fungal mass as a green alternative for applications such as packaging and surfboard cores.
The outer body of the drone was covered by cellulose sheets grown by bacteria. These sheets were coated with the same protein which the Paper Wasps use to make their nests waterproof. The circuits were also forged from silver nanoparticle ink to aid the degradation process, which can also be printed on biodegradable boards.
However, the remaining mechanical parts such as the motors, propellers and the controller have retained their non-biodegradable property and are the same as in a standard quadcopter. These are the core parts of a drone which enable it to fly and practically cannot be replaced by biodegradable materials. Researches are already on their way to prove this theory wrong and have been researching on making biodegradable propellers.
A standardized drone is equipped with dozens of sensors which can tell the height, speed, position, etc. But these sensors cost the drone heavily in size and weight as they are quite bulky and add on to the drone’s weight. Scientists are even looking into the prospect of natural sensors or sensors made up entirely of natural organisms and bacterias. With the advancement of genetic engineering, there may be a possibility of replacing sensors with modified organisms which can pick up the same electrical signals as sensors. However, this may again bring a new challenge to ensure the safety of the environment by unleashing genetically modified organisms into the soil if the drone crashes. The concept of an eco-friendly drone which is degradable to a great extent is still an astounding feat achieved by humans and a progressive step towards saving the environment.