Even before American skies are open to drones flown by commercial operators, they’re already taking off with Silicon Valley innovations. Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) are just about everywhere these days and may someday even be commercially available to deliver your beer, medicine, pizza, books. It’s not just that, they’ll also travel to places where humans may find it a little difficult to carry out certain tasks such as mapping the environment or natural disasters, tracking wildlife and even studying other planets. Much as technology, when a drone breaks or is lost, it turns into nothing except trash.

A new biological drone can grow by itself, even in the remotest locations to do its job, and then melt into a safe puddle of sugar if it ever gets lost.

Biological drone for Puddle of Sugar

The shell of the drone is made from a mushroom-like material called mycelium and cellulose, the vegetative part of the mushroom is coated with protein that is used to make wasp nests waterproof. The mushroom material turned out to be appropriate for flying. “Mushroom materials are inherently lightweight, biodegradable, and the strength to weight ratio of the material was preferable for this application,” says Melissa Jacobsen from Ecovative, the organization that helped the students build the chassis.

The circuit board is printed with natural silver. The majority of the materials other than a few components such as its motor is biodegradable.

Ian Hull, a sophomore at Stanford University explains, that in an event that the drone crashes in an environmentally-sensitive place, for example a coral reef, in that case it can biodegrade and it wouldn’t even affect the coral as strongly. Hull was a part of a large team of students from Brown, Spelman, and Stanford, who collaborated with scientists from NASA on the design of the prototype.

The biological drone can be sent into environment where it can be a little difficult for humans to return. For example, if we need to fly it over rapidly spreading wildfires or check into an area of nuclear meltdown, we can send in the drone and it can send back data without returning.

Despite the fact that the material would naturally biodegrade by itself, the students designed it to self-destruct. The drone won’t degrade that quickly, unless it is given a set of enzymes that can help to break it down further. A part of the project for the students was to make those enzymes that would further trigger in certain conditions such as time or impact.

The bio material is likewise perfect for space, since it can grow itself, regardless of where it is.

“The problem with trying to bring anything to space is it’s expensive to take mass up there, and you want anything you bring to be easily modified,” says Hull. “Instead of taking parts and backups, you can just take a tiny sample of the bacteria or fungus you need to grow something like this drone.”

The automaton can additionally use bio-engineered sensors, which can help lessen weight and wipe out the requirement for electric power. Other bio-engineered cells, created from organic entities that live in extreme environments, helps to secure the automaton from high temperatures and radiation. The students deliberately precisely changed the cells so they wouldn’t influence the nature’s turf if the drone crashes and melts into a puddle of sugar.

The biological drone was one of this year’s entries in the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition.