This Paper Drone Can Fly Farther Than Any Other Carrying Life-Saving Supplies

This Paper Drone Can Fly Farther Than Any Other Carrying Life-Saving Supplies
Technology

A lighter, longer-lasting version of the iconic drone can fly farther and faster than any other drone on the market. And it carries life-saving medical supplies.

Anna Johansson
  • 9 february 2017

Drones have grown significantly in popularity over the last few years. Consumers use them for fun, businesses use them for data gathering, real estate uses them for imagery—the uses are widespread and growing. Now, we’re looking at the production of a paper drone that can fly farther than any other drone on the market. Since the invention of drones, delivery of supplies and medicine is much easier. Oftentimes, rescue efforts occur where a standard vehicle can’t travel because the roads are dangerous and unreliable. Rather than sending someone on foot with a package, which could take days and may not be entirely safe, the United States military decided to experiment with drone technology through their research arm Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

DARPA explored several aspects of the current drone market to improve the product that would carry such important cargo. Drones can carry products to places vehicles can’t go, but they’re also very expensive. Furthermore, they’re limited to only the distance the battery will carry them, and they must have enough juice to make the return trip. It’s easy for these expensive flying bots to get lost or stolen if the battery life doesn’t allow it to reach its destination.

As a solution to these problems, DARPA decided they could make a much lighter version of a drone made from heavy paper that wouldn’t need to make a return trip. It’s entirely disposable. The recipient of the package can recycle the drone or throw it out. Since the battery life wouldn’t need to be conserved for a return trip, it can fly virtually twice the distance of a typical fixed-range aircraft, and if it’s lost or stolen, it’s considered an affordable loss.

DARPA says a product that can make its delivery and then disappear is a huge priority, especially when delivering supplies to military areas. “The Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems (ICARUS) program is driven by a vision of vanishing air vehicles that can make precise deliveries of critical supplies and then vaporize into thin air,” says DARPA’s description of the product.

The aircraft is designed specifically to carry medical supplies to areas in dire need. DARPA also envisions this paper flight system as a way to deliver essential supplies to military personnel. “If ICARUS is successful, small items, including batteries, communications devices, or medical supplies – especially those requiring maintenance of a cold chain – could be supplied/resupplied using low-cost, disposable aircraft to military or humanitarian assistance teams operating in difficult-to-access areas,” the description states.

The downside to a drone is that it’s small and can only carry a certain weight. The supplies must also fit inside the small compartment. Most of the time, drones need room to carry a battery for a return journey, limiting space for the necessary supplies, but the paper drone doesn’t need that.

Another important space-freeing feature is the lack of motor. The drone is designed to look and fly like a glider. Instead of a motor, it has a small computer system that uses sensor technology to move control surfaces and remain afloat.

It uses the principles of lift and tilt like the first airplanes used, keeping it airborne using natural wind currents. Because of the light design, it doesn’t need a motor to fly and land. To spur the flight pattern of this autonomous vehicle, it will be launched from an airplane, jet, or helicopter. The computerized system will take care of the gliding flight path from there.

The idea seems great on paper, but will it really work? There are many ways in which the flight could be sabotaged simply through nature’s recourse.

The main principle at stake here is the difference between a hard good and a soft good. “A hard good is a good that does not quickly wear out,” says Susan Green of the commodity brokerage RJO Futures. “It yields utility over time instead of being consumed in one use. Items like bricks would be considered durable goods because ideally they should never wear out.”

Green goes on to explain that hard goods are considered far more useful and valuable because they’re made to withstand negative forces.

In the case of this paper aircraft, we’re looking at a soft good. The benefit of a lighter structure and motor-less computer system is clear, as it allows for further distances traveled and more items packed inside. However, the lack of durability of the craft decreases the value significantly.

What happens if the wind picks up mid-flight? The computer system can try to compensate, but the lack of motor won’t be able to compensate for the strong winds. Unless the drone is launched on an absolutely perfect day, it and all its supplies will likely be lost.

The imprecise landing system could also have the drone landing miles off its mark. From there the goods could be stolen or buried, and the recipients wouldn’t know how to find it.

It’s a great start to technology that could save money and lives, but the many variables that could sabotage the project must be carefully considered first.

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

Drones have grown significantly in popularity over the last few years. Consumers use them for fun, businesses use them for data gathering, real estate uses them for imagery—the uses are widespread and growing. Now, we’re looking at the production of a paper drone that can fly farther than any other drone on the market. Since the invention of drones, delivery of supplies and medicine is much easier. Oftentimes, rescue efforts occur where a standard vehicle can’t travel because the roads are dangerous and unreliable. Rather than sending someone on foot with a package, which could take days and may not be entirely safe, the United States military decided to experiment with drone technology through their research arm Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

+DARPA
+drone
+technology
+USA

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