Drones

Are flexible frames the future of crash-proof drones?

Short elastic bands pull the magnetic contact points of the frame back toward their original spots and the drone snaps back into shape
Short elastic bands pull the magnetic contact points of the frame back toward their original spots and the drone snaps back into shape
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In a crash, the flexible drone deforms to prevent permanent damage
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In a crash, the flexible drone deforms to prevent permanent damage
Short elastic bands pull the magnetic contact points of the frame back toward their original spots and the drone snaps back into shape
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Short elastic bands pull the magnetic contact points of the frame back toward their original spots and the drone snaps back into shape
The central case is isolated from damage by the flexible frame
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The central case is isolated from damage by the flexible frame
The thin fibreglass frame can bend in several directions and return to its original shape
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The thin fibreglass frame can bend in several directions and return to its original shape
The thin fibreglass frame can bend in several directions and return to its original shape
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The thin fibreglass frame can bend in several directions and return to its original shape
The thin fibreglass frame can bend in several directions and return to its original shape
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The thin fibreglass frame can bend in several directions and return to its original shape
Squishy drones: much more crash-proof than rigid ones
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Squishy drones: much more crash-proof than rigid ones
Anatomy of a squishy drone
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Anatomy of a squishy drone
Flexible frames: the future of crash-proof drones?
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Flexible frames: the future of crash-proof drones?

Forget about expensive obstacle avoidance systems, a team of researchers has built a prototype drone with a rubbery, flexible frame that deforms harmlessly in a crash, then snaps itself back into shape ready to fly again in an instant.

Multicopters really are one of the more significant technologies of our time. In a short time, these insanely agile, stable and inexpensive flight platforms have already made a sizeable contribution to filmmaking, agriculture and industry, as well as being a ton of fun.

But as a system, they have a serious weakness: they're easy to crash, and they don't typically crash well. It's a tough issue to get around, so much so that some drones now ship with large prop guards, while others pack clever obstacle avoidance technology.

But a group of researchers from Floreano Lab, NCCR Robotics and EPFL has put forward another potential solution: drones with rubbery, deformable arms that attach magnetically to a central frame.

Anatomy of a squishy drone
Anatomy of a squishy drone

Inspired by the properties of insect wings, which are stiff in the load bearing sections but flexible at the joints, the prototype drone has proven itself very resilient, both in flying into walls and dropping from decent heights.

The drone's central case is surrounded by an external frame made from flexible fiberglass, which is highly flexible and lightweight at just 0.3 mm thick, and supports four props and motors. Flexible wiring handles the electronics, and magnetic joints and soft elastic bands connect the frame to the central case.

When the thing takes an impact, the frame magnets detach and the outer frame becomes very soft and deformable, absorbing shock from the central case and preventing permanent deformation of the arms and frame. Then, as it stops bouncing, the elastic bands pull the magnets back in line, and the drone snaps back into shape, ready to fly again - pretty much by the time it comes to rest.

We can see this kind of thing being pretty handy at the lower end of the consumer segment, for the kinds of toy drones people learn on before moving on to more expensive race quads or camera quads.

Check out the flexible drone design in the video below.

Source: EPFL

Insect-Inspired Mechanical Resilience for Multicopters

3 comments
McDesign
Man, I love the simplicity of the concept, and the elegance of the operation - DANG! WOW!
Dan Lewis
In response to the title question - Maybe. One thing that's missing for sure is protective light weight spheres for the blades. I'm sadly amazed that no one yet is offering wicker or plastic clam shell spheres to snap around all the spinning blades of all bladed consumer drones.
habakak
Fantastic. But yes, the props needs protection. Fix that and you have a pretty robust drone. With obstacle avoidance (even not perfect) it would be 10 times longer lasting than todays drones.