Have you ever been carrying your drone down the street and wished it was just a little smaller and more portable? No, probably not, if you’re a normal person who likes to play with dogs, not drones. But if you said yes, two Swiss researchers have the answer: a small, foldable drone that can unfurl and and take off within seconds.
Robotics researchers Stefano Mintchev and Dario Floreano at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology unveiled their creation yesterday: a wee quadrotor drone whose arms wrap around itself, folding into a trapezoid for compact storage. When it needs to fly, the arms—a 0.3-millimeter layer of fiberglass and an underlying layer of inextensible fabric—snap out in an instant, the rotors begin spinning, and the drone shoots off into the air. Of course, you still need to fold it by hand, but the researchers are working on an automated folding mechanism (and also, don’t be such an impatient pain in the ass).
Mintchev and Floreano say the drone’s design is based on folding concepts in origami. “Compared to traditional multi-joint foldable structures, origami allows us to embed complex folding patterns in a lightweight design,” Mintchev says. “A desired folding behavior can be easily encoded in the crease pattern of the origami.” In the case of this quadrotor, two vertical folds allow the arms to wrap around the central frame, while a horizontal fold stiffens the arm after deployment to ensure high maneuverability during flight.
The drone’s small size makes it unsuitable for anything requiring a payload lift (don’t expect to see these babies working for Jeff Bezos any time soon), but its portability makes it extremely useful for surveillance. Sure, your neighbor might use it to spy on you, but first responders could take this portable drone into dangerous or unstable environments and use it to get an aerial assessment after an accident or natural disaster (like Nepal after its recent earthquakes).
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com