A team of researchers from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland has developed a hybrid origami-inspired drone that can be either stiff or flexible depending on the circumstances.
The drone’s structure is stiff enough to carry its own weight when it is airborne, while also able to withstand the thrust of the propellers. However, the drone will become flexible when it runs into something in order to absorb the shock and minimize any possible damage.
A unique combination of stiff and elastic layers that gives the drone resiliency. The researchers stretched an elastomer membrane and sandwiched it in between rigid plates so that when the system is at rest, the plates hold together and give the drone its stiffness.
“When we make a drone, we can give it specific mechanical properties,” Stefano Mintchev, the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “This includes, for example, defining the moment at which the structure switches from stiff to flexible.”
The drone can also unfold automatically when instructed because of it is able to build up elastic potential energy when it is folded up.
The structure that can alternate between being stiff and flexible could be used in a number of other areas outside of drones including as soft-touch grippers that soften once they reach a certain level of pressure so they do not break the object that they are picking up. This also means it cannot pick up a load that exceeds its capacity.
Recently, researchers have attempted to create light, flexible and highly innovative robots and drones, often inspired by Japanese origami. This results in either rigid structures with a certain weight-bearing capacity that tend to break if the capacity is exceeded or flexible and resilient structures that cannot carry much of a load.
“The current trend in robotics is to create softer robots that can adapt to a given function and operate safely alongside humans. But some applications also require a certain level of rigidity,” Dario Floreano, the director of the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at the EPFL, said in a statement. “With our system, we have shown that you can strike the right balance between the two.”
The study was published in Science Robotics.