It’s no secret that drones have changed the way that surveillance, exploration, and warfare are carried out. But if a drone crashes, it leaves behind debris and announces “a drone’s been here.” Enter bio-drones, which use minimal electronic parts and are made mostly of fungus and bacteria that degrade into “goo” if (or when) they crash.
The brainchild of researchers at the NASA Ames Center in California, the first bio-drone took flight earlier this month. Its creator, Lynn Rothschild, touts the benefits a self-destructing drone would have for surveillance: “No one would know if you’d spilled some sugar water or if there’d been an airplane there.”
The drone’s chassis is made from the vegetative part of fungus called mycelium, cultivated by New York State-based company Ecovative. (The product is already used as a sustainable alternative to things like wine packaging.) The device features a protective covering grown from bacteria that is itself coated in proteins cloned from the saliva of wasps—which wasps use to waterproof their nests. Its circuitry was printed in a biodegradable silver nanoparticle ink, as well.
There are, of course, some sections of the drone that can’t be replaced with biological parts—the bio-drone’s first flight used propellers, controls, and a battery from a normal quadcopter–but that could change in the future. A more pressing concern is if these devices were to degrade mid-flight, it might start raining drones.