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Brilliant ‘morphing quadcopter’ rapidly changes shape to fit through gaps

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Researchers at the University of Zurich in Switzerland have constructed a search and rescue quadcopter capable of shapeshifting in order to pass through narrow spaces.

Referred to as a ‘morphing quadcopter’, this is the second iteration of the design. The team behind the drone were inspired by the way birds can hold their wings flat against their body to fly through gaps. The drone’s ability to change shape is intended to help it navigate through cracks or gaps as rapidly as possible and access areas that would otherwise be inaccessible. This makes it a great tool for searching for survivors during disaster scenarios.

How does it work?

Many drones are capable of some degree of folding but in most instances, it is done manually by the drone owner to take up less space while being transported.

The cool thing about this design, which was built using off the shelf and 3D printed shapes, is that it can fold and morph while flying. Firstly, the system’s two onboard cameras gather information on the size and dimensions of gaps. The morphing quadcopter then changes its shape rapidly and passes through the space. The morphing quadcopter is undoubtedly a  triumph of engineering and a gymnast of the skies (seriously, check out the video below).

Associate Professor of Robotics and Perception at the University of Zurich, Davide Scaramuzza wrote of how exactly the drone works:

“The Foldable Drone: a morphing quadrotor that can squeeze through gaps, flatten against walls for up-close views, and even grab small objects with rotor arms! This new drone has four independently rotating arms that fold around the main frame. To guarantee stable flight at all times, we exploit an optimal control strategy that adapts on the fly to the drone morphology.”

In other words, each of the drone’s arms is connected to a servo-motor which is independently controlled. As such, the robot can change into many different configurations and customise its shape depending on what sort of gap it’s passing through.

In addition to its impressive transforming abilities, the morphing quadcopter can inspect the integrity of structures (to potentially assess whether it’s safe for rescuers to enter a collapsed building) and carry small objects (which could maybe help to bring a cell phone, water or other gear to a victim who is trapped).

You can check out a video of the drone in action below.

What’s next for this UAV? We’ll keep you updated but we certainly hope it’s out and saving lives as soon as possible.

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