We’ve all experienced those persistent flying bugs – The ones that seem to survive no matter how many times you swat them or how many windows they crash into. But what if you could build that same level of resilience into a drone? That’s the premise of a study published by three scientists from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland.
Intelligent systems experts Stefano Mintchev, Sebastien De Rivas and Dario Floreano published the investigation titled Insect-Inspired Mechanical Resilience for Multicopters, In IEEE. And their findings could have big implications for drone manufacturers moving forward. They summarise that, in taking inspiration from the natural world, a drone with ‘mechanical resilience’ could be built to withstand the kind of impact that would usually leave your DJI Phantom in pieces.
Take a look at the video below:
Insect-inspired drone is flexible during collisions but rigid during flight
Although the outer shell of the prototype is flexible enough to bounce off obstacles the drone crashes into, the frame is solidified up by a magnetic centerpiece. This magnet is the glue that holds everything together, but no in such a rigid way as to remove the drones flexibility.
The abstract of the study, published in IEEE, reads:
The ease of use and versatility of drones has contributed to their deployment in several fields, from entertainment to search and rescue. However, drones remain vulnerable to collisions due to pilot mistakes or various system failures. This letter presents a bioinspired strategy for the design of quadcopters resilient to collisions. Abstracting the biomechanical strategy of collision resilient insects’ wings, the quadcopter has a dual-stiffness frame that rigidly withstands aerodynamic loads within the flight envelope, but can soften and fold during a collision to avoid damage. The dual-stiffness frame works in synergy with specific energy absorbing materials that protect the sensitive components of the drone hosted in the central case. The proposed approach is compared to other state-of-the art collision-tolerance strategies and is validated in a 50-g quadcopter that can withstand high-speed collisions.”
This isn’t the first time that engineers have looked to the natural world for inspiration on building more resilient drones. One example is the drone developed by Flyability, Elios. It’s been designed to literally bounce off walls – just like a persistent insect might. The camera is essentially packed into a roll cage, able to stream a live feed from hard to reach places while taking a few hits in the process.