Drawing inspiration from insects, EPFL scientists have designed a new type of drone that is flexible enough to absorb shocks without breaking before returning to its original shape.

Two trends have been prominent in robotics in recent years: stiff structures that have a certain weight-bearing capacity but that break if that capacity is exceeded, and flexible yet resilient structures that cannot carry much of a load at all. EPFL researchers have combined the best of both worlds. Applying what they observed about insect wings, they have come up with a hybrid drone that can alternate between rigid and flexible depending on the circumstances. This research, conducted by the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems (LIS), was published in Science Robotics.

A hotbed of drone innovations

Under the direction of Professor Dario Floreano, LIS investigates the future of artificial intelligence and robotics at the convergence of biology and engineering, humans and machines. Its fields of activity span aerial, evolutionary, soft, and wearable robotics. Finding inspiration from nature, LIS researchers have designed robots that are soft, fly, or dynamically adapt their own behavior. The foldable PackDrone, for example, uses cutting-edge technology to deliver parcels weighing up to 500 grams. It is programmed to avoid obstacles and reach destinations on steep or uneven terrain. Another example of bio-inspired device developed at LIS is the feathered drone. It can spread or close its wings while flying, making it easier to maneuver and more resistant in high winds.

 

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