Everything You Need To Know About the Morphing Quadcopter


Image Credit: D. Falanga, K. Kleber, S. Mintchev, D. Floreano, and D. Scaramuzza

We have witnessed time and time again the conveniences that drones bring to different industries. Because of their maneuverability and safety, drones have facilitated businesses' needs for inspections, aerial imaging, and drone mapping. Drones have proved themselves to be incredibly useful in these areas, but they do still have their limitations, one being their shape. Whether its a helicopter, fixed-wing, or quadcopter, there are going to be difficult places to navigate. If only there was a drone that could change its shape while flying.

Such a drone may not be far off. In an instance of drone innovation, a research team with the University of Zurich in Switzerland developed the Foldable Drone. Inspired by the use of drones in search-and-rescue and in inspections, this team worked to create a drone that could “morph” in midair to avoid obstacles and navigate through narrow openings. This drone was designed to “morph” and squeeze through difficult spaces in order to perform inspections, aerial mapping, and aerial imaging. Here's what we know about them and their work so far.

Video Credit: D. Falanga, K. Kleber, S. Mintchev, D. Floreano, and D. Scaramuzza

The University of Zurich is the largest university in Sweden. The work being done on the Foldable Drone was started by the university’s Robotics and Perception group late last year. Their Robotics and Perception lab was founded in 2012 and is part of the university’s Department of Informatics, where their main goal is “to develop autonomous machines that can navigate all by themselves”. A research team within this lab designed this drone to be able to retract its arms mid-flight so that it could navigate through difficult spaces, drawing inspiration from “birds that fold their wings in midair to cross narrow passages”. It is capable of doing this because of its “morphing design” which consists of “four independently rotating arms that fold around the main frame.”

Furthermore, the researchers who developed this design state in their research paper that they were able to guarantee stable flight at all times, in spite of the drone’s folding maneuvers, by exploiting “an optimal control strategy that adapts on the fly to the drone Morphology.” As a result of this design, the foldable drone can accomplish morphing into three distinct shapes: H morphology, O morphology, and T morphology. Their research paper includes images of the drone exhibiting these morphologies as well as an image of the drone entering a collapsed building through a narrow gap.

Image Credit: D. Falanga, K. Kleber, S. Mintchev, D. Floreano, and D. Scaramuzza

If put on the market, a drone with these capabilities would be another game-changer in the drone industry. Its ability to change shape while still flying would be a great asset to any business or public service team. Hopefully, we can look forward to seeing more developments to this “foldable” technology and a commercial release sometime soon. If you'd like to follow the research team's experiments with the Foldable Drone, check out their site.

I am a writer and an artist based in Georgia. Specializing in illustration, graphic design, and video art, I love to explore the new ways technology intersects with art. I think drones have done amazing things for photography and video art, making what would previously be costly and difficult more accessible. As a complete novice, it was only recently that I saw what independent artists could do with their drones, and I continue to be impressed by the sights that drones are able to explore and the images they can capture. Instagram: @tyesha.ferron

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