Companies like Amazon are still trying to get their delivery drone projects off the ground. However, the U.S. Marines are leading the way with their own delivery drone program — and, unlike the built-to-last drones being developed by many companies, these ones aren’t designed to hang around for long.
That’s because they are intended to be one-use disposable flying machines; designed to fly a particular mission to drop off their cargo, and then be abandoned where they land. That might sound wasteful, but it could actually prove considerably cheaper than using the kind of high-end drones that would regularly be used to carry out delivery missions.
The drones — referred to as TACAD, or TACtical Air Delivery drones — are constructed from cheap, disposable materials. Each one consists of little more than a wooden box, some cheap electronic components, and glider wings. Launched from larger aircraft, they then fly to their target either autonomously or via remote control. The drones are developed by the Dixon, California-based company Logistic Gliders and are capable of carrying up to 1,800 pounds of cargo.
The LG-2K drones were recently put through their paces on 12 flights, including six dropped from a helicopter and six more from a cargo plane. Five of the gliders carried out autonomous flights, and all five managed to land successfully. The testing will continue in 2019 as part of a contract from the U.S. Marines. After this, it is possible that they could be used for real: Delivering cargo in a variety of terrains, including urban environments, mountainous terrain, or through forest or jungle canopies.
The reason for using disposable drones, which will have to be replaced between missions, is due to the dangerous nature of some of the flights the drones may have to perform. This could make retrieving drones for flying again difficult or impractical. By abandoning the drones after they have dropped their payload, troops won’t have to worry about this. It also means that it is less expensive to lose a particular drone if it does not make it to its intended target for whatever reason.