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Large UASs can cost millions of dollars, but the DataHawk—designed by engineers at the University of Colorado—is made of a resilient, springy foam called polypropylene and is cheap in comparison at only $600.

New drones made from disposable materials offer an inexpensive option for collecting data in high-risk environments, like measuring the speed of a wildfire or the temperature of a volcano.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been using disposable and expendable unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) to track high-impact weather such as tropical cyclones and hurricanes. Because of their small size, a UAS can also monitor marine sanctuaries and other protected ecosystems without human interference.

“We want to get the cost as low as possible, so we use these instead of manned aircraft,” says Robbie Hood, the UAS program director for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “We can put them in dangerous situations, so if we do lose them, we haven’t lost human life.”

Image courtesy of Dale Lawrence/National Geographic.

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