A team of designers in Hong Kong has come up with one of the coolest and creepiest air-filtering solutions we've ever heard - winged parasitic drones that come out at night, steal energy from neon lights and then use it to grow a forest of tiny air-purifying plants on their backs.

Yes that sounds like the plot of a Sci-Fi-channel thriller, but when you think about it, it's also a pretty innovative set up. Not only would the drones' grow CO2-absorbing plants, they would also be creating a new source of renewable fuel.

The team behind the parasitic robots, NAS-DRA, has explained that the drones would latch onto neon billboards in big cities such as Hong Kong with their insect-like legs. 

During daylight, they'd perch on buildings, their plant-covered wings spread, quietly sucking up urban pollution through a carbon-absorbent polymer paint. At night they'd attach to billboards and use the heat given off by the neon signs to turn that CO2 into a source of energy.

That CO2 could then be used to grow plants on the robots' wings, which will help it filter the air and also could be used as hydroponic farms. And the organic waste from these plants could then be converted into biogas, and any left over CO2 would be used to create methane.

Those fuels would power the robot itself, meaning that it would be self-sustaining.


"It's purely fighting for a green on the street, for less air pollution, light pollution, noise pollution and information pollution," Michal Jurgielewicz, a Beijing-based architect who's working on the project, told Adele Peters at Co.EXIST.

"The plants are planted and harvested by humans using hydroponic farming […] We're aware that urban conditions can be harsh and growing the plants for food can be difficult. It should be adjusted to the place and conditions, so using sensors, one can modify how plants should be grown," he added.

Of course, we're still a long way from seeing these drones being released. Researchers over at the University of California, Los Angeles, are now working on the robotic design of these flying parasites, including the carbon-absorbing polymer paint. But NAS-DRA report they're hoping to test prototypes of the robots soon.

It's a pretty ingenious idea that I'd love to see put into practice. Still, maybe it's all the bad TV I've been watching, but I can't help but wonder what happens if these drones realise that we're fleshy bags full of carbon walking around untapped, and decide to drink straight from the source. Hollywood producers, come at me.

Source: Co.EXIST, The Stack, NAS-DRA