Video of the week: origami-inspired drone takes knocks and keeps flying

This week’s video comes from Switzerland where insect wings and origami have provided the inspiration for shock absorbing drones.

The Engineer has reported on numerous developments inspired by the Japanese practice of origami and a team at EPFL has been similarly inspired to create structures that are flexible enough to absorb shocks and return to their initial shape.

Two types of origami-inspired structures have emerged over the years: rigid structures with weight-bearing capacity that break when that capacity is exceeded, and flexible yet resilient structures that lack load bearing capacity.

Applying what they observed about insect wings, the EPFL researchers have developed a hybrid origami drone that can be stiff or flexible depending on the circumstances.

Stefano Mintchev and the origami drone (Alain Herzog/2018 EPFL)

When airborne, the structure is stiff enough to carry its own weight and withstand the thrust of the propellers. But if the drone collides with something, it becomes flexible and shock absorbing.

This research, which is being carried out in Dario Floreano’s Laboratory of Intelligent Systems, has been published in Science Robotics.

“When we make a drone, we can give it specific mechanical properties,” said Stefano Mintchev, the study’s lead author. “This includes, for example, defining the moment at which the structure switches from stiff to flexible.” And because the drone builds up elastic potential energy when it is folded up, it can unfold automatically when so instructed.