Drones

Adaptable drone folds while flying to get through gaps

Adaptable drone folds while fl...
The foldable drone takes on an H-shaped propeller arm configuration, allowing it to fit through narrow openings
The foldable drone takes on an H-shaped propeller arm configuration, allowing it to fit through narrow openings
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The foldable drone in its H-shaped configuration, which allows it to squeeze through narrow vertical openings
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The foldable drone in its H-shaped configuration, which allows it to squeeze through narrow vertical openings
The foldable drone in its O-shaped configuration, which allows it to squeeze through narrow horizontal openings
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The foldable drone in its O-shaped configuration, which allows it to squeeze through narrow horizontal openings
The foldable drone in its T-shaped configuration, which allows its camera to get closer to subjects
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The foldable drone in its T-shaped configuration, which allows its camera to get closer to subjects
The foldable drone in its traditional X-shaped configuration, which allows offers the most stable and efficient flight
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The foldable drone in its traditional X-shaped configuration, which allows offers the most stable and efficient flight
The foldable drone takes on an H-shaped propeller arm configuration, allowing it to fit through narrow openings
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The foldable drone takes on an H-shaped propeller arm configuration, allowing it to fit through narrow openings
All four arms are independently moved by individual servo motors, which are in turn controlled by an onboard microprocessor
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All four arms are independently moved by individual servo motors, which are in turn controlled by an onboard microprocessor

Although quadcopter drones show promise as a means of exploring hazardous environments such as disaster sites, they do have one drawback – they're wide, limiting their ability to squeeze through tight spaces. An experimental new drone addresses that problem, by folding into different shapes while in flight.

The one-of-a-kind quadcopter was developed via a collaboration between the University of Zurich and Swiss research group EPFL.

In regular flight, its four propeller arms sit in the traditional X-shaped configuration (when viewed from above). Once it's time to go through a narrow vertical opening, however, the two front arms fold forward while the two rear ones fold back, making the aircraft considerably narrower. And the fun doesn't stop there.

If the drone needs to hover up or down through a horizontal opening, all of its arms can fold over to one side, minimizing its circumference (see photo below). It can also fold its front arms straight out to the sides, allowing its front-mounted camera to get closer to items that the operator wishes to inspect. Those two front arms can likewise fold forward and inward, clasping objects that the drone then carries through the air.

The foldable drone in its O-shaped configuration, which allows it to squeeze through narrow horizontal openings
The foldable drone in its O-shaped configuration, which allows it to squeeze through narrow horizontal openings

All four arms are independently moved by individual servo motors, which are in turn remotely-controlled through an onboard microprocessor. Additionally, the thrust of each propeller is automatically adjusted to compensate for the different configurations, allowing the quadcopter to maintain stable flight.

The researchers who developed the prototype are now hoping to make the drone even more autonomous. Among other things, this would allow it to perform inspections of dangerous sites such as collapsed buildings, automatically changing its shape to fit through tight passages as needed, then finding its way back out when done. There are also plans to allow its arms to move vertically, making more flight configurations possible.

This isn't the first time we've seen a quadcopter that's able to get narrow. Earlier this year, France's Étienne Jules Marey Institute of Movement Sciences unveiled its Quad-Morphing drone, which can halve its wingspan by aligning all four of its propellers in a row.

The U Zurich/EPFL drone can be seen in action, in the video below. A paper on the research was recently published in the journal IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters.

Source: University of Zurich

The Foldable Drone: A Morphing Quadrotor that can Squeeze and Fly

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