Self-Steering Polyplane Prototype Turns Paper Planes Into UAVs

By Wesley Fenlon

These paper airplanes were designed to deploy over forest fires and send back data about the environmental conditions.

Unless you're John Collins, the "paper airplane guy," it's not easy to nail a target with a paper airplane. Collins, of course, makes it look effortless, throwing planes that boomerang right back into his hand. Meanwhile, a robotics team at the University of Queensland in Australia have taken the high-tech approach to flying papercraft, building featherweight UAVs out of paper and some minimal electronics.

Their first prototype, the Polyplane, resembles a tried-and-true paper airplane design, but with a twist--two elevon tabs attached to the back of the plane. And, unlike most paper airplanes, the Polyplane can steer itself.

Image via University of Queensland.

Some simple electronics inside the fold of the paper control the elevon tabs in flight. The incorporation of those electronics is also novel--the circuitry will be ink-jet printed onto the paper stock. The light, foldable circuitry won't weigh the plane down, and will make each Polyplane cheap to produce.

The Polyplanes are designed to read atmospheric data in forest fires, and are obviously more disposable than larger, far costlier drones. We'd also be happy to use them to attack parkgoers on nice, sunny days.

Gizmag points out that similar paper airplanes could, conceivably, operate on a massive scale. When Project Space Planes launched paper planes from a balloon 22 miles above Germany, the papercraft rode the jet streams as far as America and Australia. Give those planes some sensors and the ability to fly themselves to a target, and you've got an incredibly cheap and powerful fleet of drones.