World’s first biodegradable fungus drone aims for disposable future

13 Nov 2014

The biodegradable drone chassis developed by Ecovative with NASA's Ames Research Center. Image via Stanford Brown Spelman University

A drone almost entirely made from a root-like fungal material has become the first biodegradable drone following its first successful test flight which could pave the way for cheaper, disposable drones.

Developed by NASA’s Ames Research Center and led by evolutionary biologist and astrobiologist Lynn Rothschild, the drone’s core structure is made from a material known as mycelium which is both lightweight and, more importantly, biodegradable.

This material is then coated in cellulose material that the team describe as being akin to leather, to give it strength from the natural challenges nature provides.

The reasoning behind creating biodegradable drones stems from the exponential growth in the number of drones flying in our skies as the technology needed to create them becomes cheaper, but as they are sent to more remote locations, the chance of it crashing and being lost forever leaves no benefit to the environment.

The fact these drones are more beneficial to the environment also could pave the way for potential disposable drones that could be put into situations where the drone will most likely perish, but expensive equipment that exists on current models will not be lost.

Of course, as one of the project’s team, Raman Nelakanti of Stanford University says, “There are definitely parts that can’t be replaced by biology,” most notably the engines, propellers and battery.

However, they are now working on developing a formula whereby they could use E.coli bacteria to create sensors for the drone.

Describing how a biodegraded drone will appear to someone who stumbles across it, Rothschild said, “No one would know if you’d spilled some sugar water or if there’d been an airplane there.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic