Few would connect vaping with armed drones. But in a busy workshop in Kyiv, disposable e-cigarettes have become the new weapon of war.
Across the country, Ukrainians have launched revolutionary initiatives to support and even arm the Ukrainian army against Russia, following the invasion of President Putin’s considerably larger army in February.
A new and unusual has just been launched by the engineer and doctoral student Maksym Sheremet and his organization “Drone Lab”.
His team of volunteers has set up trash cans outside Kyiv Polytechnic Institute campuses and dormitories where Sheremet studies and teaches how to collect disposable e-cigarettes and salvage a valuable asset inside: lithium polymer batteries. .
Batteries are used to power release systems attached to drones so they can carry and drop anything from medical supplies to grenades. Release systems are built 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. The Independent of his workshop littered with half-built drones and 3D printers in an undisclosed location in the capital.
Since the country had to close its airports at the start of the war, imported items have become increasingly difficult to obtain and therefore expensive.
“Lithium batteries used to cost $1 each, but their price has increased fivefold, which has significantly increased our costs. So we started to power delivery systems from the batteries of disposable e-cigarettes. It’s free, easy to reuse, and eco-friendly because we recycle.
A team of about sixty volunteers manufactures the drone systems, 30 of which work specifically on the e-cigarette plan.
In four months, they have built 4,000 drop systems – which cost less than $30 – and are being sent to the front lines. They are also building drones from the ground up and repurposing existing commercial drones to go with their drop systems. Three weeks ago they started working with electronic cigarette batteries.
“In the last 20 days, we’ve made 100 drone drop systems using e-cigarette batteries and we have another 100 on the way,” he continues, holding up a drone they made and fitted with a thermal camera.
“We have 2,000 orders in progress.”
He says it was his way of contributing to the war effort.
“There are people who want to help and who don’t know how to shoot a rifle. Our brain is our weapon”, continues the engineer.
“We have students, engineers, volunteer programs, it’s very easy to weld this stuff together, it’s not hard work.”
Ukraine’s military repeatedly pleaded with Western powers for arms as it lacked ammunition and weapons while Russia continued a fierce offensive now focused on the east of the country.
In June, Ukrainian military intelligence officials claimed that Russia had up to 15 times more artillery than Ukraine, meaning it was seriously outgunned.
Drones therefore became crucial in the battle, allowing Ukrainian forces to spot artillery and thus direct fire effectively, saving ammunition. Some of the drones can also drop anything from anti-personnel grenades to small bombs or carry medical supplies to struggling soldiers.
At the start of the war, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense urged drone owners to hand over their machines to the military. On Friday, Ukrainian media reported that the army had launched another drone campaign: a fundraising project to find or finance the purchase of 200 scout drones.
“We work from private donations and investments, so we don’t charge anything to the military,” Sheremet continues.
“There is no maximum weight the drones can carry – it will depend on the size of the drone and the release.”.
The e-cigarette project has some unexpected side benefits, he says, because it helps with recycling and is safer than students just throwing away their devices.
Electronic cigarettes have powerful batteries designed to be recharged. Disposable devices do not have USB charging points and are therefore sometimes thrown away after a single use.
This, says Sheremet, is a colossal waste. It also poses a danger to waste and recycling workers: there are even calls in countries like the United States to create better legislation to manage the devices amid reports of e-cigarettes and their batteries catching fire and even exploding.
Sheremet and his team have set up collection points throughout the university. They recycle the plastic vape case, repair and recharge the batteries, and place them in charging cases so they can be used again and again. In the workshop, he shows how easy it is to extract the battery, solder the mechanism and attach it to a board.
“You can’t throw electric cigarettes in the trash because of the lithium battery, it’s a serious fire hazard and terrible for the environment,” he concludes as his team is busy behind him.
“So our plan has military, environmental and security benefits.”
The Independent Gt