After 2,500 Years, The Paper Airplane Goes Digital

Now on Kickstarter, a simple kit turns any paper airplane into something that can be remotely flown using your smartphone.

If it seems like kids have been flinging paper airplanes at each other since the beginning of time, you’re not far off: paper airplanes actually predate the Wright Brothers taking off at Kitty Hawk by a couple thousand years. Thanks to a new Kickstarter, though, the ancient art of aerodynamic origami is getting updated for the 21st century. Meet PowerUp, a new project on Kickstarter that supercharges your paper airplanes with a real propeller, and lets you remotely fly them using your smartphone.


From a tech standpoint, the PowerUp isn’t hard to understand. Each PowerUp module is a thin carbon fiber rod that you slip inside the body of any paper airplane. On one end, a tiny lithium polymer battery and a small wireless module are housed inside a crash-proof bumper that you fit on your glider’s nose. On the other end, a simple propeller allows your paper airplane to fly farther, while a tiny rudder allows you to steer your airplane using your Android or iOS device’s accelerometer. And that’s it. The PowerUp can be installed into any paper airplane of your choosing to make it fly better, faster, farther, and more accurately than it would have before. But given the fierce competition among paper airplane enthusiasts when it comes to folding the ultimate glider, isn’t the PowerUp a little bit of a cheat?

PowerUp’s creator, Shai Goitein, doesn’t think so. He says that the PowerUp is a “cheat” in the same way that the Wright Brothers cheated when they installed a propeller on a glider to create the first airplane. “In a way, we’re basically saying, let’s give paper airplanes the power of real flight,” he tells Co.Design. “Paper airplanes are gliders. PowerUp just takes these gliders to a whole new level of controlled and powered flight.

Although PowerUp only launched last week on Kickstarter, the project has already blown past its modest goal of $50,000 to earn over $400,000 as of writing, with 52 days of fundraising still left to go. According to Goitein, he chalks up the PowerUp’s success to its cultural dissonance: with the PowerUp, Goitein taken an object of which nearly everyone has fond childhood memories, and introduced cutting-edge technology to a design that is, by its very nature, timelessly analogue.

“People love paper airplanes,” says Goitein. “There’s a beautiful phrase in Hebrew, that refers to ‘the inconceivable easiness of making something from nothing.’ That’s what a paper airplane is. It’s more than just a folded piece of paper, but instead, combines design, art, and science into something so simple and clear it has become an international icon.”

If you’d like to PowerUp your paper airplanes, you can pre-order one today for just $30 on Kickstarter.