Future Tech: A Drone Built From Fungus


When you think “drone,” the first image that pops to mind is probably a metal-and-polymer aircraft, like the ones Amazon plans on using to deliver packages to people.

But what if manufacturers could build drones out of something other than metal? What if you could construct an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) 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; the MoMA PS1 museum in New York City, for example, used it as a component in a large tower built on its property over the summer.

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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:

Bio-Drone Schematic

Such a drone is also expendable. “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.

Who said the future needed to be built from steel and plastic? Maybe a lot of it will be grown in the dirt.

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Images: iGEM 2014/Stanford-Brown-Spelman

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