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Crash resilient drones inspired by insect wings

14 March 2017

Researchers presented a new approach to making crash resilient quadcopters – making them soft, so it doesn’t matter if they come into contact with the environment.

Quadcopter design (Image courtesy of NCCR Robotics/YouTube)

Stefano Mintchev, the lead researcher on the project, developed a quadcopter based on the dual stiffness properties found in insect wings. Insect wings are composed of sections made of cuticle, a stiff material that takes the load bearing portion of the wing, connected with flexible joints made of the protein resilin that have evolved to be shock absorbent and compliant. These two factors together allow insect wings to be both strong and load bearing, and compliant and durable.

The drone is made of a central case and a thin fibreglass external frame with four arms held together by magnetic joints. The fibreglass frame is only 0.3mm thick, soft and flexible so it can withstand collisions without permanent damage. The magnetic joints connect the frame to the central case and hold the fame in place during flight. During a collision they break, meaning the drone transitions to a soft state with a disengaged frame and it can safely deform without damaging itself. Soft elastic bands ensure the frame is held close enough in place that the magnets snap back after collision, allowing the frame to realign and the drone to continue its flight.

Testing on the drone was conducted by dropping it over 50 times from a height of 2m, whereby it completely disengaged the magnetic joints and automatically restored to its pre-crash configuration. 

The design means the drone can have as many rotors as required and not limit the configuration. 

The researchers are from Floreano Lab, NCCR Robotics and EPFL.

Video courtesy of NCCR Robotics.


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