This experimental drone takes shape in flight

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The flying machine can do some particularly interesting tricks by quickly lowering and raising its “arms” as needed. The HiPeRLab team of University of California staff and students is pushing the boundaries of drone technology with a series of unique projects. The team of mostly young professionals is doing an impressive job, as you can see on their website, trying to come up with innovative ideas in everything from product design to improving safety features to developing space sensing.

It is hoped that these ideas will be reflected in the toolbox of drones offered to end users or even business customers in the future (or not too much later). Thus accelerating the spread of a segment that is not developing slowly.

Perhaps the most spectacular of the workshop’s many interesting research projects is a device that can change shape in a fraction of a second during flight. In its normal state, this model looks like a completely ordinary drone with four propellers, used by hobbyists. The trick is that a 90-degree release mechanism is built into the arms that hold the blades. Moreover, once the locking mechanism is released, no extra energy is needed as gravity does the work.

The design allows for fairly stable stunts in narrow areas that would be impossible for a normal drone of this wingspan to negotiate. The technology could come in handy, for example, when scanning hard-to-reach areas of construction sites, industrial facilities and utility networks. (But a drone flying through chimneys and ventilation ducts is likely to leave the military in no doubt.)

But the bending arms not only expand the potentially accessible area, they also come in handy for logistical tasks. In the video, the researchers also demonstrated how the two vertically oriented propellers exert opposing forces to “embrace” an empty cardboard box and then carry it a few metres away. The idea is a good one, but the materials available do not tell us exactly how much weight the shape-shifting drone can practically lift.


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