IEEE Spectrum reports that the U.S. Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory is developing a new plywood drone designed to carry payloads of up to 700 pounds. But unlike many military drones that trade affordability for war zone smarts, this aircraft—known as TACAD, or Tactical Air Delivery—could be made for as little as $1,500 using hardware that you might have lying around on your own workbench. The idea: it won’t matter if it’s ever recovered or not.

Such cost savings are made possible by several design choices. First, the drone is unpowered: dropped from an airplane, it can glide for tens of miles without motors or large power sources. Second, it makes use of cheap off-the-shelf electronics like GPS units, which have been made super-affordable by the proliferation of smartphone technology. Third, and most simply, its frame is made from basic materials like plywood and metal brackets.

But both allow humans to step back even further from the dangerous job of getting supplies to the front line.


Photo: Evan Ackerman