Are "Chemputers" the Future of Military Aviation?

Somewhere in a laboratory deep in the UK, scientists are working on growing aircraft in giant vats of chemicals. It may sound like the plot for the next Bond movie, but if researchers at the University of Glasgow get their way, it’s the literal future of aviation.


What are “Chemputers?”

Chemists have long theorized a way to use commercially-available chemicals to “grow” their own products. Originally developed for the pharmaceutical industry, a computer/chemical combination has been proposed for the use of “printing” medications, theoretically to be done one day by end-consumers. Researchers in the UK are taking it a step further, imagining the possibilities of what they call a “chemputer.” Imagine a 3-D printer, but operational through a vat of chemicals operating at a molecular level.

In these vats, hypothesize chemists, whole machines and systems can be built in a very short period of time. Using environmentally-sustainable materials, scientists are working on “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.” Sounds like science fiction, but is it science’s future?

Growing the Next Generation of Drones

In the past, the biggest limitations of military aircraft development have been time and money. Not only are the machines incredibly costly to prototype and construct, R&D can take upwards of 20 years or more. Using chemical vats to “grow” the machines molecule by molecule may provide a fast, efficient way to build small (unmanned) aircraft that can be utilized for short, specific missions. Because they would theoretically be far more cost-effective than traditional military aircraft, vat-grown drones could be used in hazardous situations to drop off supplies, carry out surveillance, or assist special forces.

The use of chemicals for warfare is fraught with ethical implications, but in this instance, chemicals could actually be a solution, not a weapon. For now, the idea of chemically-grown aircraft is simply a theoretical between BAE engineers and scientists at the University of Glasgow, but it’s one that’s exciting even the staunchest of military minds, too.


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