Drone draws on the pufferfish to protect itself and others
Multicopter drones are becoming increasingly useful, but their exposed whirling propellers can get damaged in collisions, and inflict injuries on bystanders. A new prototype drone addresses that problem, by copying the pufferfish.
When it feels threatened by other animals that are getting too close, the pufferfish makes itself larger by inflating its body like a balloon. Designed by a team of engineers at the University of Colorado Boulder, the "PufferBot" drone takes a similar approach.
In regular flight, an array of linked, pre-tensioned plastic rods is folded close to the quadcopter's body. When the drone's proximity sensors detect that a person (or anything else) is getting too close, though, those rods are pushed outwards.
This causes the array to expand into a shield surrounding the copter's body. That shield consists of a horizontal ring that goes out past the propellers, along with two criss-crossing vertical arches that extend over the top.
As a result, the PufferBot is likely to just bounce off of the person or other obstacle, instead of cutting into or being damaged by them. Additionally, the deployment of the shield serves as a visual warning, potentially keeping bystanders from colliding with the drone in the first place.
According to the university, the entire shield apparatus weighs slightly over 1 lb (0.5 kg).
The research, which is being led by graduate student Hooman Hedayati, will be presented later this month via the online International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS 2020).
PufferBot is demonstrated in the following video.
Source: University of Colorado Boulder