Foldable Drone Offers Easier Access to Tight Spaces

Drone hovering above city at sunset

Drones have been used for everything from military surveillance to bridge inspection. However, there are some limitations on their ability to enter certain locations or environments with limited or tight access points. Engineers at the University of Zurich are looking to remedy this.

During search and rescue operations, getting into a collapsed structure often means navigating an opening just a few inches wide. While typical drones would prove too large, a new model with the ability to fold certain parts of its body could get through these tight spaces. The engineers developing this aircraft were inspired by birds that can fold their wings mid-flight.

Each of the quadrotor's four arms is foldable and contains an independently rotating propeller. This means that all four arms can fold in different directions, allowing the drone to take on a variety of shapes. This is paired with a control system that shifts the drone’s center of gravity as the arms fold in different directions, allowing the drone to maintain a stable flight path.

The aircraft's central control system can also adjust the speed of each rotor to account for the gravitational shift that occurs as different arms go in different directions, helping the drone keep its balance. Currently, the drone's arms only move in two dimensions, but researchers hope to improve the technology to allow for 3D foldability. They also plan to develop algorithms that will allow the drone to decide in real time which folded shape will work best for the contours of the entrance or passageway.


Image credit: aerogondo2 /

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