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Could origami help protect your drone from taking damage?

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How do you protect your drone from taking damage when you fly?

Aside from obvious: avoiding crashing, you should also fly to the conditions, steer clear of obstacles and attach the prop guards that usually come with your drone (although let’s face it: most people won’t because they generally make a drone look worse).

What about when your drone actually does crash into something?

It can’t always be helped, especially because drone sensors aren’t always able to detect. An accident can quickly the spell the end of your UAV or at very least, costly repairs.

Scientists from Imperial College London’s Aerial Robotics Lab have been researching this problem, looking at ways to prevent drones taking damage from collisions.  A solution emerged from an unlikely source: the ancient Japanese paper-folding art of origami.

An origami Drone by Pranav Muralikrishnan

The researchers fitted drones with a light, protective origami ring that cushioned the impact of the drone as it crashed into objects.

In their experiments (you can watch the YouTube clip below), they testing crashing the drone into the ground with an without the origami protection ring. The results showed that the drone fitted with the Rotary Origami Protective System (Rotorigami) was able to absorb less force and damage after making contact with the ground and was therefore capable of continuing to fly, even after a significant impact.

To make the rings, the researchers folded thin, lightweight sheets of plastic into a basic origami patterns suitable for engineering applications. The origami rings were constructed around a rotating inner frame (pictured below). This rotorigami protected all the propellers at once from side-on collisions, and helped keep the vehicle in the air during and after impact.

As drone avoidance systems gradually get more sophisticated, the chance of the drone accidentally hitting into something will fall significantly. No matter how great that technology gets however, there is always the chance that another UAV (or a bird) could hit you by surprise, giving you and your avoidance sensors insufficient time to respond. That’s where solutions like the origami cushion may come in.

Limitations

You may notice that this ring is designed to protect the outside edges of the drone, meaning it protects UAVs from 360 degrees on the horizontal axis. It does not, however, protect the top and bottom of the drone from sustaining damage in a collision. That will be an upcoming challenge for the research team.

Potential applications for this system:

The system that they have designed is envisioned to be useful for applications such as drones that survey rain forests or for heavy delivery drones that transport blood or medical supplies. We are as yet unsure whether this concept will prove to be a commercial success but the initial indicators are promising.

While you’re here, try reading 7 things I learned in my first month as a drone owner or about the Austrian company designing parachutes for commercial drones. 

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