Updated 6:02 PM EDT, Wed, Apr 01, 2020

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DARPA Cardboard Drones that Self-Destruct take First Flight


(Photo : Otherlab) Cardboard aerial drone from Otherlab.

Small unmanned aerial drones made out of cardboard intended for both civilian and military use have successfully taken to the air for the first time as part of an innovative program run by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The cardboard drone is called "Sky Machine" and is part of an overarching DARPA program called VAPR for Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR). Among other projects, VAPR is developing "transient electronic devices" such as circuit boards that melt or self-destruct after they've achieved their purpose.

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The DARPA project that led to the development of Sky Machine is called ICARUS for "Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems." The goal of ICARUS is to develop unmanned small aerial vehicles that self-destruct or vaporize after delivering critical supplies, such as those needed by troops in a combat zone.

Sky Machine being developed by Otherlab, a California-based company that describes itself as "a dynamic lab with a variety of enterprises in various stages of development, from projects in the initial research and development phase."

Sky Machine is a small autonomous aircraft made of cardboard, and is equipped with electronic devices that allow it to fly and land in a specific area. Because they're small, hundreds of these cardboard drones can be deployed from a cargo plane to reach remote and inaccessible locations.

Sky Machines, which are unpowered, can fly at a speed of up to 88 kilometers per hour while descending; spin and locate a landing zone. Their onboard electronics (likely transient electronic devices) guide the cardboard drones to their destination to within a few meters.

Sky Machines are biodegradeable and dissolve in a few days, which makes them true to VAPR's goal of being a self-destructing device.

DARPA's VAPR program is an effort to create self-destructing electronics and other devices that prevent this type of technology from falling into enemy hands.

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