This drone can assess gaps and shrink to squeeze through them, while in flight! Researchers at the University of Zurich and EPFL designed an aircraft using 3D printed parts and off the shelf motor and radio system, and it can literally fold itself to fit through gaps, making it ideal for search and rescue and other scouting missions. PhD candidate Davide Falanga explained, “The idea came up after we worked on quadrotor flight through narrow gaps. The goal of our lab is to develop drones which can be in the future used in the aftermath of a disaster, as for example an earthquake, in order to enter building through small cracks or apertures in a collapsed building to look for survivors. Our previous approach required a very aggressive maneuver, therefore we looked into alternative solutions to accomplish a task as passing through a very narrow gap without having to fly at high speed.
The solution we came up with is the foldable drone, a quadrotor which can change its shape to adapt to the task. The main difference between conventional drones and our foldable drone is in the way the arms are connected to the body: each arm is connected through a servo motor, which can change the relative position between the main body and the arm. This allows the robot to literally fold the arms around the body, which means that potentially any morphology can be obtained. An adaptive controller is aware of the drone’s morphology and adapts to it in order to guarantee stable flight at all times, independently of the configuration.”