Researchers at Imperial College London have found that the ancient art of origami could be used to protect in-flight drones from collisions.
Without hindering flight performance, experts have taken inspiration from origami to equip drones with lightweight, impact-absorbent cushioning to protect them from bumps and scrapes.
The research, published in Science Robotics, shows how drones equipped with the Rotary Origami Protective System incur less force and damage during a collision, and are thus able to keep flying after impact with obstacles.
Lead author Dr Pooya Sareh, who led the research at Imperial’s Department of Aeronautics and now directs the Creative Design Engineering Lab at the University of Liverpool, said: “Using an origami-inspired protective layer, we have built a way to let miniature flying robots navigate in confined or cluttered spaces safely and efficiently.”
She added: “We’ve successfully made a lightweight, impact-absorbing, rotating bumper for drones that makes them more resilient to crashes.”
Dr Sareh and colleagues folded a thin, lightweight sheet of plastic into a descendant of the Miura-ori fold– a simple origami pattern particularly suitable for engineering applications and then built the protective structure around a rotating inner frame.
The one structure can then protect all propellers at once from side-on collisions, and helped keep the vehicle in the air during and after impact.
The researchers tested and compared the effectiveness of Rotorigami-equipped drones with existing designs and found that the protective structure helped reduce the force of an impact, and helped keep the drone from uncontrolled spinning after the collision.
Looking ahead, the team have said they want to use their origami bumper designs on larger drones that navigate rainforests, or ones with heavy loads like blood delivery for transfusions.
However, they did note that the use of fully autonomous drones in unsupervised operation is a long way off.