The venerable paper plane. From passing secret notes, to seeing whose plane flew the longest or the highest, these simple origami projects hold a dear place in your heart no matter how old you are. But what if they could save lives as well?
Otherlab, an engineering research and development lab based in San Francisco, have successfully created what they call the world’s most advanced industrial paper airplane. Note the words “industrial” and “paper”. A part of Otherlab’s Aerial Platform Supporting Autonomous Resupply Actions (APSARA) system, these planes vaguely resemble stealth fighters and use computational design to create low-cost aerial supply vehicles.
Made up of a relatively cheap material called Mycelium, the APSARA gliders are made to be aerodynamic and degradable within a matter of days. Tests, however were conducted using heavy-duty cardboard. The gliders are also capable of autonomous steering, using standard electronics such as a GPS, autopilot, several small servomechanisms and a disposable battery.
The planes are capable of carrying canisters, “medically sensitive fluids” and batteries, delivering these items to rural areas without roads, or regions rendered inaccessible. As such, they are the perfect tools for humanitarian aid for people in remote regions.
How will the APSARA Gliders work?
By use of an airplane such as a C-17 or C-130 cargo plane, the APSARA glider would be lifted into the air and transported to the required location. After factoring in elements such as wind and other data, the airplane would then drop the APSARA glider so that it glides down back to earth in a spiral motion. The APSARA glider would then land in a pre-set GPS location within an accuracy of a 33-foot radius.
From there, those people in need can come up to the APSARA glider and unpack all required supplies. The glider will degrade over time thus ensuring that these missions don’t leave residue once completed.
While similar projects do exist, they usually incur high costs and also lack a retrieval method once deployed. They also tend to crash. If the drone has a comparatively heavy battery, then it also cannot carry a heavy cargo. If dropped by parachutes, supplies can also drift in the wind, getting lost, or even intercepted by others.
Otherlab has obtained funding through DARPA’s Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems program also known as ICARUS. The program’s primary objective is to manufacture and deploy vehicles that are able to make accurate and precise deliveries of critical supplies. Far importantly, the drone must also leave no trace. As such the APSARA glider would be the perfect tool for the job. If DARPA’s Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program also pulls through, that would mean that the glider’s internal components too would degrade as the program deals with biodegradable hardware. Otherlab has successfully completed their contract with DARPA and are looking for partners for the next phase of the development.
Sri Lanka too could make use of the APSARA Gliders
A program of this nature would be quite beneficial for a country such as ours where natural disasters are rather common. The floods last year, for example show how inaccessible it is for supplies and help to get to those areas. A fleet of these APSARA gliders would be ideal for this. Apart from floods, you also have landslides that can block off certain areas as well, here again, the APSARA glider would be greatly beneficial.
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