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Science Saturday Insect-inspired drone can bounce back from a crash

EPFL researcher Stefano Mintchev

The research is part of the growing field of light and flexible ‘soft’ robotics.

(ALAIN HERZOG)

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) have developed a bio-inspired aerial robot that combines rigidity and flexibility, allowing it to recover from collisions without breaking.

This innovative hybrid drone is unique because it combines the strength and rigidity of insect wings while in flight, with the foldable flexibility of an origami sculpture upon impact.

“The current trend in robotics is to create ‘softer’ robots that can adapt to a given function and operate safely alongside humans. But some applications also require a certain level of rigidity,” said Dario Floreano, head of EPFL’s Laboratory of Intelligent Systems (LIS), where the research was carried out. “With our system, we have shown that you can strike the right balance between the two."

EPFL drone video

Video of EPFL's hybrid bioinspired drone

Layers of stiff plastic and pre-stretched elastic materials allow the drone’s body to stay rigid or bend depending on the situation. “When we make a drone, we can give it specific mechanical properties. This includes, for example, defining the moment at which the structure switches from stiff to flexible,” explained LIS researcher Stefano Mintchev.

Mintchev is the lead author on a paper, published this week in the journal Science Roboticsexternal link, which describes how the innovative drone technology could have wider robotics applications in aerospace, manufacturing, and even medicine.

EPFL/cl

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