Researchers from the University of Zurich have developed a new drone which can retract its propeller arms in flight, making itself small to fit through narrow spaces.
The team hope the drone can be of use when searching for victims of natural disasters.
Funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, the university’s Robotics and Perception Group alongside the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at EPFL designed the drone based on birds which can fold their wings in mid-air to cross narrow passages.
David Falange, one of the researchers behind the project, said: “Our solution is quite simple from a mechanical point of view, but it is very versatile and very autonomous, with onboard perception and control systems, this morphing drone can maneuver in tight spaces and guarantee a stable flight at all times.”
The Zurich and Lausanne teams worked in collaboration and designed a quadrotor with four propellers that rotate independently, mounted on mobile arms that can fold around the main frame thanks to servo-motors.
The control system has been created to adapt in real time to any new position of the arms, adjusting the thrust of the propellers as the center of gravity shifts.
In the future, the researchers hope to further improve the drone structure so that it can fold in all three dimensions.
On how to build on the break through, Falanga added: “The final goal is to give the drone a high-level instruction such as ‘enter that building, inspect every room and come back’ and let it figure out by itself how to do it.”