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Drones are, largely, military tools: hardened, efficient machines of war. They’re sturdy, not fuzzy. Strong, not brittle.
But breaking down is exactly what the bio-drone is supposed to do. Created – or rather, grown – by a team of 15 students from Stanford University, Brown University, and Spelman College for the 2014 iGEM competition, the biodegradable drone is made mostly of fibrous mycelium, a root-like material found in fungi. The lightweight and sustainable substance is then coated with a sheet of sticky bacteria-grown cellulose, while the circuits inside the drone are printed using silver nanoparticle ink.
These biodegradable parts together help the drone naturally decompose, a very useful feature for the military: If a drone doing surveillance or spying crashes, for example, it could decompose before an enemy could find it.
But for all the military applications people sprang to, it turns out that this drone wasn’t designed with the military in mind. And making it work as a secretive, trace-free drone would be difficult.
The drones are meant to enter sensitive ecological areas, like coral reefs, to monitor and send back data without disrupting the ecosystem. The biodegradation, therefore, is for protecting the environment, not the drone, which means the team focused less on speeding up the decomposition, and more on building the drone out of the right materials.