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Malaysian researchers have found a new use for waste from processing pineapples: making parts for small, pilotless aircraft drones. Researchers developed a method to use pineapple leaves to make airframes for the drones.

Pineapples are harvested once a year in Malaysia. The leaves are thrown away because there is little use for them, until now.

Professor Mohamed Thariq Hameed Sultan is the director of the project. He teaches at Malaysia’s Putra University. He has been trying to find uses for pineapple waste created by farmers in an area around 65 km from the capital Kuala Lumpur.

“We are transforming the leaf of the pineapple into a fiber that can be used for...a drone,” he told Reuters.

Mohamed Thariq explained that natural materials can be better than man-made ones. They are less costly, lighter and stronger when compared by weight.

Experimental drones made of the new material have been able to fly up to about 1,000 meters and stay in the air for about 20 minutes, he added. If the drone is damaged, the frame can be buried in the ground and will fully break down within two weeks, he said.

The research team hopes to create a larger drone that is more profitable to sell. It would include sensors for agricultural purposes and to take pictures.

The Malaysian Unmanned Drones Activist Society is a non-governmental group helping to design the drone and advising on the project. William Robert Alvisse is a member of the group. He said: “Our role here is to help the industry, the farmers, to increase their yield and make their jobs much easier.”

Farmers hope that the new use for pineapple leaves will lead to higher incomes for themselves and their families.

Irwan Ismail is a pineapple farmer. Ismail said Malaysia is suffering from economic and health problems from the spread of the coronavirus.

“Society is desperate and there is no alternative to increase income,” he said.