FIt will connect vaping with armed drones. But in a crowded Kyiv workshop, single-use e-cigarettes have become the latest weapon of war.
Across the country, Ukrainians have launched groundbreaking initiatives to support and even arm the Ukrainian army against Russia, after President Putin’s much larger army invaded in February.
A new and unusual one was launched by engineer and doctoral student Maxim Sheremet and his organizer “Drone Lab”.
His team of volunteers set up delivery boxes off-campus and dorm rooms at Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, where Sheremet is studying and studying, to collect disposable e-cigarettes and take back a valuable commodity inside: lithium-polymer batteries.
Batteries are used to power the launch systems attached to drones that can carry and drop anything from medical supplies to grenades. Release systems are designed using 3D printers.
“We started collecting e-cigarettes after the price of lithium batteries really went up a month ago,” says the 26-year-old. independent From his workshop, which was filled with half-built drones and 3D printers, in an unknown location in the capital.
Since the country had to close its airports at the beginning of the war, it has become increasingly difficult and expensive to obtain imported materials.
“The cost of lithium batteries was $1 each, but it went up five times which increased our costs exponentially,” Sheremet says. So we started powering projection systems from batteries in disposable e-cigarettes. It’s free, easy to reuse and environmentally friendly because we recycle.”
A team of about 60 volunteers makes the drone systems, and 30 of them work specifically on the e-cigarette scheme.
Within four months, they built 4,000 drop systems—which cost less than $30—and sent it to the front. They are also making drones from scratch and reusing existing commercial drones to go with their projection systems. Three weeks ago they started working with e-cigarette batteries.
“In the last 20 days, we have made 100 projection systems for drones using e-cigarette batteries and we have another 100 systems in the works,” the engineer continues, holding a drone they made with a thermal camera.
“We have 2,000 orders in the pipeline.”
He says it was his way of contributing to the war effort.
“There are people who want to help and do not know how to shoot a rifle. Our brain is our weapon,” the engineer continues.
“We have students, engineers, volunteer programs…it’s very easy to solder these things, it’s not a difficult task.”
The Ukrainian military has repeatedly appealed to Western powers for weapons with low ammunition and weapons, while Russia has pursued a fierce offensive now focused on the east of the country.
In June, Ukrainian military intelligence officials claimed that Russia has up to 15 times more artillery than Ukraine, which means it is seriously outgunned.
So drones became crucial in battle, allowing Ukrainian forces to efficiently spot artillery and direct fire, saving ammunition. Some drones can also drop anything from anti-personnel bombs to bomblets or transport medical supplies to soldiers in trouble.
At the beginning of the war, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense urged owners of drones to hand over their equipment to the army. Ukrainian media reported on Friday that the military launched another drone campaign: a fundraising project to obtain or crowdfund 200 reconnaissance drones.
“We operate from donations and private investments, so we don’t charge the military anything,” Sheremet continues.
“There is no upper limit on what the drones can carry – it will depend on the size of the drone and the version.”
He says the e-cigarette project has unexpected side benefits, as it helps with recycling and is safer for students once their devices are thrown away.
Electronic cigarettes contain powerful batteries designed to be recharged. Disposable devices do not have USB charging points and so are sometimes thrown away after one use.
Sheremet says this is a huge waste. It also poses a danger to waste and recycling workers: there are even calls in countries like the US for better legislation to manage devices amid reports of e-cigarettes and their batteries catching fire and even exploding.
Sheremet and his team set up collection points throughout the university. They recycle the plastic vape wrap, repair and recharge the batteries, and put them in recharging cases so they can be used over and over again. He demonstrates in the workshop how easy it is to extract the battery, weld the mechanism, and attach it to a board.
He concludes that his team is busy behind him: “You can’t put electric cigarettes in the trash because of the lithium battery, they are a dangerous and frightening fire hazard to the environment.”
“So our plan has benefits for the military, the environment and safety.”