When most people hear the word “drone” they either think of uncrewed military aircraft or those multi-rotor mini-copters that could one day deliver packages to your doorstep. But what if the package is the plane? That’s the idea behind the Aerial Platform Supporting Autonomous Resupply Actions (APSARA) drone, a cardboard glider that carries about two pounds of cargo.
“It looks like a pizza box that’s been shaped into a wing,” says Star Simpson, an engineer at San Francisco robotics company Otherlab. Her team designed and built APSARA with funding from DARPA, which challenged them to develop a single-use delivery vehicle for emergency scenarios. But, Darpa being Darpa, there was a twist: The drones had to not only carry a small payload and land where you told them to—once they were on the ground, they had to disappear.
Cardboard was an obvious choice. It’s cheap, lightweight, and can decompose in a matter of months. Plus, the material has a proven track record among drone hobbyists. The APSARA advances cardboard-drone design with something Simpson calls origami thinking; her team’s three-foot-wide drone is made of scored and laser-cut cardboard sheets that take about an hour to fold and tape together. Simpson calls it the world’s most functional paper airplane.
DARPA Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) Program, http://www.darpa.mil/news-events/2015-10-09
Otherlabs Official Website, https://otherlab.com/projects