Innovation

The drone that changes shape to fly through gaps

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND (RECENT) (UNIVERSITY OF ZURICH / EPFL) –

A drone that can retract its propeller arms while flying, in order to fit through narrow gaps and holes, has been developed by researchers at the University of Zurich and EPFL (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne).

The UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) is a quadrotor with four propellers that rotate independently. These are mounted on mobile arms that can fold around the main frame thanks to servo-motors.

With an onboard camera, the drone’s control system adapts in real time to obstacles, measuring gaps before flying through them.

The drone, built with off the shelf and 3D-printed parts, could be used to inspect damaged buildings after an earthquake or during a fire, looking for people trapped inside and guiding the rescue team towards them.

Researchers say the craft was inspired by birds that fold their wings in mid-air, and could be turned into an autonomous system via future algorithms.

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