The U.S. Marine Corps is reportedly testing an innovative new way of getting care packages to its troops in the field: disposable drones.
The Tactical Air Delivery gliders, as they’re calling them, would be able to deliver up to 700 pounds of food and other supplies, according to IEEE Spectrum. They can then be left to rot where they landed.
The technology could also be used for a variety of applications outside the military, for example in fire fighting or search and rescue.
Dropped from a height dozens of miles away, the drones would use basic GPS to float to within an easily walkable distance of wherever they are needed. Marines could then take apart the drone to get after what’s inside, and leave the casing where it landed.
This would solve a few problems. First, the drones would theoretically be cheap — around $1,500-$3,000. Second, disposable drones mean the soldiers that find them don’t have to lug them around until they’re able to get them back to some kind of base. Third, the drones can glide for some distance, so they could begin their flights in friendly skies and keep the planes that serve as launching stations out of danger.
The Marines want to start testing these gliders in 2018, and the hope is that the drones will one day be used for more than resupplying soldiers. They could also resupply firefighters or send food to people caught in remote areas.
Those capabilities make Tactical Air Delivery gliders giant versions of the biodegradable paper airplanes built by Otherlab, a group based in San Francisco.
Otherlab’s planes can carry around two pounds of supplies to people in remote areas in need of humanitarian aid. Like the gliders built by the Marines, Otherlab’s drones would be tossed from delivery planes and use GPS to land well within range of their target. Unlike the drones built by the Marines, Otherlab’s little planes are biodegradable.