Whereas quadcopter drones simply have four rigid propeller-bearing arms, flying insects are able to adjust the angle of their wings according to the situation. Inspired by that fact, scientists have created a drone that can fold its arms while in flight, allowing for better performance.

The prototype copter was developed by a team at Indiana's Purdue University, led by Asst. Prof. Xiumin Diao.

For starters, it's reportedly better than a regular drone at flying in windy conditions. This is due to the fact that it can automatically move its arms in order to maintain its center of gravity, as the wind threatens to knock it askew by hitting it from one side.

Additionally, it can lift heavier asymmetrically-shaped payloads. This attribute comes thanks to its ability to compensate for the irregular weight distribution of such cargo, by once again adjusting its own center of gravity.

The folding arms are also said to make the copter more energy-efficient than others, in that they can be angled to take full advantage of the available thrust.

And finally, the drone can squeeze through narrow gaps (as might be encountered in search and rescue operations) by folding its arms to the front and back, making itself skinnier. In this regard, it's quite similar to morphing quadcopters already developed at the University of Zurich and France's Étienne Jules Marey Institute of Movement Sciences.

Purdue's Office of Technology Commercialization has patented the technology, and is now working with Diao to find industry partners who might be interested in licensing it.

A paper on the research was recently published in the Journal of Dynamic Systems, Measurement and Control.