Exploring high-performance wooden drone structures through speculative design

Dylan Cawthorne*, Nicolai Iversen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingArticle in proceedingsResearchpeer-review

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Although we aspire to make decisions based on logic and systematic analysis, it has been argued that engineers' technical decisions can be influenced by their ideologies about progress and the future-including the material selection process. In this work, we address this potential influence through a holistic and exploratory speculative design process, asking 'what are some implications of the use of wood in high-performance drone structures, and what will a high-performance wooden drone structure look like?' A wooden prototype search and rescue drone, developed for use in Denmark, is built, tested and analyzed through quantitative and qualitative means as part of the exploration process. We find that wood offers unique features including lower toxicity during manufacturing and increased environmental sustainability. In addition, when properly designed a wooden drone structure has a significantly higher stiffness to weight ratio (8.8 *106) compared to a typical non-optimized carbon fiber and epoxy composite plate (7.6 *104) or tube (1.1 *106). Historical examples are utilized which suggest that actual material performance may be less important than the ideologies of progress surrounding the material, and hence that engineers may not always make decisions based purely on performance. Thus, here speculative design is used not only as a way to explore the material 'path less traveled', but also as an approach to examine the legitimacy of wood as a structural drone material- A nd more broadly, to discuss the role ideologies play in modern engineering practice.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society (ISTAS21) : Technological Stewardship and Responsible Innovation, ISTAS 2021
EditorsBrandiff Caron, Ketra A. Schmitt, Zach Pearl, Rozita Dara, Heather A. Love
Publication date2021
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-6654-3580-2
Publication statusPublished - 2021
SeriesInternational Symposium on Technology and Society (ISTAS)


  • Speculative design
  • drones
  • ethics
  • ideologies of progress
  • wooden structures


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