This is, by far, the coolest, most high-tech paper airplane you’ve ever seen—DARPA is developing biodegradable, cardboard drones that can glide up 88 km (55 miles).

Drones can be instrumental delivery systems for battlefields requiring supplies, disaster zones that need access to medicine, and developing nations that have no road infrastructure to support the efficient movement of goods. But the logistics of how these machines can be sent back after they completes their deliveries prove to be a challenge.

Image Credit: Otherlab

As a solution, DARPA combined previous research from projects such as the Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems (ICARUS)—a biodegradable, single-use machine deployed from larger aircraft designed to carry supplies; and the Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) – electronics designed to self-destruct should it get into enemy hands. They then partnered with Otherlab to build the Aerial Platform Supporting Autonomous Resupply Actions (APSARA) system.

APSARA systems can carry small, but important payloads such as blood, vaccines, and medical-fluids up to 1 kg (2.2 lbs), be deployed from cargo planes by the hundreds, then land on designated drop points. Because they use electronics from the VAPR program, and don't run on motors and rotors, the drones will basically biodegrade in a matter of days.

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