BAE Wants To Grow Drones In Vats On Demand

Brewing up a solution to a battlefield problem

Vat Grown Drone

Vat Grown Drone

The vat is a "Chemputer" concept.Screenshot by author, from YouTube

It takes years, if not decades, to develop a new military airplane. Troops in the field, going on patrols and yearning for better air support against enemy attacks, don’t have the luxury of waiting decades for a solution. Last weekend, BAE, the British aerospace defense giant with a name that looks like a flirty text, released a concept for a novel answer: why not grow drones in vats, custom order and ready for combat in months if not weeks?

First, the battlefield commanders draft the drone they need from a menu of options on a table-sized tablet.

Then, in a process BAE calls "chemputing," the drone is grown in a vat, with the electronics made and embedded in the body.

A few weeks later, those same troops on patrol now have a new scout and attack vehicle flying overhead. Beautiful!

The "Chemputer" concept for vat-growing drones is a joint effort by BAE Systems and the University of Glasgow. In a BAE press release, Lee Cronin, a chemist at the university, said:

We have been developing routes to digitize synthetic and materials chemistry and at some point in the future hope to assemble complex objects in a machine from the bottom up, or with minimal human assistance. Creating small aircraft would be very challenging but I’m confident that creative thinking and convergent digital technologies will eventually lead to the digital programming of complex chemical and material systems.

We've already seen multiple 3D printed drones go from concept to working prototype in less than a year. Vat-growing drones to order is definitely a daunting project, but technology moves fast these days, and sophisticated fighter jets take twenty or so years to develop. At the very least, it doesn't seem like this process could take any longer than traditional development.

Watch a weird little video about it below: