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Biotech Technology

Material Possiblities: A Flying Drone Built From Fungus 52

Nerval's Lobster writes What if you could construct an unmanned aerial vehicle out of biological material, specifically a lightweight-but-strong one known as mycelium? The vegetative part of a fungus, mycelium is already under consideration as a building material; other materials would include cellulose sheets, layered together into "leather," as well as starches worked into a "bioplastic." While a mushroom-made drone is probably years away from takeoff, a proposal for the device caught some attention at this year's International Genetically Engineered Machine competition. Designed by a team of students from Brown, Spelman, and Stanford Universities in conjunction with researchers from NASA, such a drone would (theoretically) offer a cheap and lightweight way to get a camera and other tools airborne. 'If we want to fly it over wildfires to see where it's spreading, or if there's a nuclear meltdown and we want to fly in to see what's going on with the radioactivity, we can send in the drone and it can send back data without returning,' Ian Hull, a Stanford sophomore involved in the project, told Fast Company.
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Material Possiblities: A Flying Drone Built From Fungus

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  • So, the expensive parts of a drone are not the motors, electronics, battery, camera... but the chunk of plastics holding it all together?

    • I agree - the plastic holding it together isn't going to be the expensive part...I think for this drone the expensive parts are probably going to be the research and development, rather than any manufacturing. This sounds super cool, and possibly have tons of interesting ramifications in materials science, manufacturing, and other fields, but I haven't ever really heard of any long term vision, government funded, R&D project described as "cheap."

    • by TheCarp ( 96830 )

      Some of their first goals make sense.... light weight material that is potentially easy to manufacture without using all the energy inherent in using metals, but maybe stronger than a lot of plastics? If they can achieve that, then great. However.... as usual, the implications needs work.... since even without this drones are already disposable enough to be worth losing them in operations like, surveying fires etc.

      "Oh noes in surveying the millions in property damage and saving lives, we lost a $1000 drone"

      • We would need to see comparisons against paper and wood. You can make a paper airplane for 2 cents or a balsawood plane with a rubber-band propeller for $2 at the dime store, as far as structural materials goes, they are proven.
    • Maybe it's just the heaviest part. The expensive thing is lightweight propulsion - made easier the lighter the unit is.

    • ^ this.

      Surely there are more obvious uses for (presumably) biodegradable materials, even for mundane uses like packaging. Using it for drones is waaaaaaaaaay down the list on things it could use useful for.
  • 'Flying high' could be interpreted in various ways.

  • It's a laudable research goal, more likely as a way to design surveillance devices that are somewhat less detectable than drones made of plastic and bits of metal.

    In either of the examples offered, however, the ubiquity and cheapness of drones already suggests that they'll simply be treated as a disposable, no matter WHAT they're made of, unless - as is the constant hurdle for bioplastics in pretty nearly every field of potential use - they become somehow cheaper than normal plastics. In a wildfire or nucl

  • An unmanned vehicle made of light yet strong biological material? So, a bird?
    • A remote-controlled cybernetic bird with a camera and laser beams strapped to it's head. Don't forget the important parts.

    • People have been making small, unmanned vehicles out of light yet strong biological materials for a hundred years. This is the stupidest article I have ever seen on Slashdot.
  • by B5_geek ( 638928 ) on Tuesday December 09, 2014 @12:16PM (#48556037)

    This is a start!
    It's this kind of thinking that will bring us closer to Vorlon tech, LEXX, or even Moya! =)
    (did I miss any?)

    Seriously, as others have pointed out, the most expensive valuable parts are not the airframe, but the motors/camera/radio/battery so stop the hippy-dippy crap and don't worry about making it out of biodegradable material.

    But seriously, keep working/thinking in this direction.

  • PETA []

    There is currently no reason to believe that plants experience pain, devoid as they are of central nervous systems, nerve endings, and brains.

  • When we see carpet made from fungus, then we'll really be in trouble.
  • Personally the most interesting part is the design of the air frame not the materials. The three motors embedded in the airframe is interesting.

    The idea that you could send one of these drones in a sensitive environment and leave it there seems off. Yeah, the air frame biodegrades, but not the motors, electronics, and the most toxic part the battery.

  • by Anon-Admin ( 443764 ) on Tuesday December 09, 2014 @12:58PM (#48556301) Journal

    So they are trying to make a drone from a biological material?

    Just 3d print it from PolyLactic acid, The stuff is made from corn and is biodegradable. On top of that it is only $18 a 2kg spool on ebay. :P

  • If it is a flying fungus, then it is not a drone, but a manta!

  • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Tuesday December 09, 2014 @01:13PM (#48556403)

    We've got flying cyborg undead fungus! []

  • Also known as wood
  • I saw a flying mushroom once. I'm pretty sure it was due to consuming a mushroom I found in a field though.
  • John Cleese instructing someone on what to do if they're attacked with a mushroom.

  • They're gonna kill the exocomps all over again.

  • Silk road III can sell shrooms that deliver themselves! No more self-identifying trips to the post office.

  • So it should take another 10 to 15 years until we can start growing Vorlon like spaceships, right? ;-)
  • Don't be fooled into thinking that "kombucha [] leather" (aka SCOBY [] leather) is suitable for this application.

    Kombucha/SCOBY is interesting stuff, and yes, the SCOBY mat can be dried out to make a "leather-like" substance.

    That is -- SCOBY leather is "somewhat leather-like" when perfect dry.

    It's also hygrophilic, meaning it has an affinity for moisture.

    In other words, it's always kind of damp and sticky, even in a relatively dry environment.

    Expose it to rain, and you've got a sloppy, slippery, un-leather-like m

  • "What if you could construct an unmanned aerial vehicle out of biological material..."

    That has to be the classiest way I've ever heard anyone describe a loogie before!
  • Really, look at their website and see the entire scope of their work. The blurb makes it sound like just UAV but it's much more and farther reaching. Very cool indeed. This UAV part, is on their, but it's just an extension of their core work. Totally sci-fi in a way, maybe of things to come.
  • Drow and Dwarves have been doing it for millennia.

  • Spirit and Allegiant Airlines already have this technology running commercial flights.

The shortest distance between two points is under construction. -- Noelie Alito