Swiss researchers have developed an origami-like drone that is resilient enough to absorb shocks without fracturing before returning to its initial shape. The shapeshifting structure was inspired by insect wings and the Japanese practice of origami, allowing the drone to be stiff or flexible depending on the circumstances.
This new type of drone was developed by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) and their findings were published in the journal Science Robotics. When airborne, the drone is stiff enough to carry its own weight, yet malleable enough to absorb shock.
The combination of these characteristics makes the structure a hybrid origami drone.
“The current trend in robotics is to create ‘softer’ robots that can adapt to a given function and operate safely alongside humans,” said Danio Floreano of the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems, where the drone was developed. “But some applications also require a certain level of rigidity. With our system, we have shown that you can strike the right balance between the two.”
The Japanese art of origami has long been an inspiration to robotics experts and drone-makers. To date they have developed robots and drones based on two kinds of origami-style structures: rigid structures with some weight-bearing capacity but which fracture if that capacity is exceed
ed; and flexible yet resilient structures that cannot support much weight.
The new hybrid drone was modelled on insect wings. A unique combination of stiff and elastic layers gives the structure its resilience. An elastomer membrane is stretched and then sandwiched between rigid plates that give the structure its stiffness when at rest. But when enough force is applied, the plates stretch apart, allowing the structure to bend.
“When we make a drone, we can give it specific mechanical properties,” says Stefano Mintchev, the study’s lead author. “This includes, for example, defining the moment at which the structure switches from stiff to flexible.”