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Foldable drone for rescue missions

Researchers from Zurich and Lausanne have developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight, making itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This can be used by rescue missions in the aftermath of natural disasters.

The new drones can retract their propeller arms in flight, making themselves small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. Image Credit: UZH
The new drones can retract their propeller arms in flight, making themselves small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. Image Credit: UZH

Researchers from the University of Zurich (UZH) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) have worked together to develop a new drone. It can retract its propeller arms in flight, which means it is able to enter buildings through a crack in a wall or a partially open window. The research team was inspired by birds that fold their wings in mid-air to cross narrow passages.

The new quadrotor has four propellers that rotate independently, mounted on mobile arms, the UZH explained in a press release. Servo-motors enable the mobile arms to fold around the main frame. The control system can adapt in real time to any new position of the arms, adjusting the thrust of the propellers as the centre of gravity shifts.

“The morphing drone can adopt different configurations according to what is needed in the field,” commented Stefano Mintchev, co-author and researcher at EPFL. Its standard configuration is X-shaped, but the drone can switch to the shape of an H, an O or a T.  The latter allows the drone to bring the onboard camera mounted on the central frame as close as possible to objects for inspection.

This new drone will be used by rescue missions in the aftermath of natural disasters in future. The objective now is to develop algorithms that will make the drone truly autonomous, enabling it to automatically choose the best path. “The final goal is to give the drone a high-level instruction such as ‘enter that building, inspect every room and come back’ and let it figure out by itself how to do it,” explained Davide Falanga, researcher at the UZH.

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