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Foldable Drone Can Change Shape In-Flight

Now this is impressive. Be sure to see the video below. There have been other drones that could alter their shape in flight, but this foldable drone (developed by roboticists from University of Zurich and EPFL) is different in several important ways.

Foldable Drone in Two Forms - Photo: University of Zurich and EPFL

Foldable Drone in Two Forms – Photo: University of Zurich and EPFL

From an article in IEEE Spectrum.

Each of its four arms has a servo motor at the base that can rotate one propeller independently, with some height differences between the arms making sure that the foldable drone doesn’t immediately blenderize itself.

While there are some arm location combinations that are particularly handy, like completely unfolded (“X” morphology), completely folded (“O”), straight line (“H”), and partly folded (“T”), the foldable drone isn’t limited to those shapes, and it remains fully stable and controllable wherever its arms happen to be, even if the configuration is asymmetric. It’s not easy to do this—it requires “an adaptive control scheme able to cope in real-time with the dynamic morphology of the vehicle.”

The (relatively) simple design helps the foldable drone maintain both efficiency and versatility, allowing it to operate autonomously with onboard sensing and computing. It doesn’t sound like the drone can autonomously decide how to reconfigure itself to get past an obstacle yet, but the researchers are definitely working on that.

Davide Scaramuzza explains, “At the moment, we exploit the morphing to adapt the vehicle’s size to tasks such as traversing gaps, inspecting surfaces or transporting objects. However, we believe that a morphing quadrotor can tailor its shape to more dynamic tasks than those shown in the paper, as for example flying at high speed, where it can improve its performance by folding to change its aerodynamic properties. This would allow very fast flight in time-critical scenarios, allowing the vehicle to navigate through large areas in very little time.”

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