Morpho: the hybrid fixed-wing multi-rotor drone can use wind in its favor

A new drone design takes the best of fixed-wing and multirotor drones, making flying in winds a breeze. It also looks pretty cool.
Christopher McFadden
Image of the Morpho drone in flight.


A new kind of drone has been developed that combines the best of multi-rotor and fixed-wing drones to help drastically reduce the power consumption of either, especially when it's windy. When fighting the wind, multi-copter and fixed-wing drones drain their batteries while attempting to stay in position or move. With morphing wings that change to reduce wind resistance, the Morpho VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) drone solves this issue. Its clever wing design can make the wind work in the drone's favor when used strategically.

The Morpho is being created by Swiss firm Elythor and is currently in functional prototype form. The research institute EPFL's spinoff company is that one. The drone has four wings, four quadcopter-style propeller arms, and an aerodynamic bullet-shaped body. Independent of the main body, each wing has a pivot point.

To maintain its upright position on the ground, the aircraft sits vertically with its wings slanted downward (much like a four-legged tripod). Then, it lifts off vertically like a quadcopter while adjusting the angle of each wing based on feedback from onboard sensors to capture as little crosswind as possible. The Morpho uses its wings as sails rather than varying its thrust using battery power if it has to move in the direction of the wind. It does this by adjusting its wings to catch the wind.

The drone tilts into a horizontal posture and moves its wings into a biplane-like configuration when it is ready to transition into "fixed"-wing forward flight. It may adjust its wings into an asymmetric configuration to counteract the off-center wind resistance if it meets crosswinds while traveling.

"The controller automatically selects whether to hold the wings in place or let them move freely with the wind, based on the drone’s trajectory and effective speed, along with any changes in wind direction," said Elythor cofounder Nathan Müller. "The wings’ surface area can also be adjusted symmetrically or asymmetrically depending on wind direction," he added.

It is hoped that the Morpho could be used to inspect power lines, power plants, wind turbines, and offshore oil platforms. Because its wings can be drawn close to its body when hovering, it could move very close to obstacles while inspecting. Moving between inspection sites, it could switch to faster, more energy-efficient fixed-wing flights.

"Winged drones have the advantage of longer flight times, while quadcopters have better maneuverability," says Elythor CEO/cofounder Harry Vourtsis. "We combined the two and added an adaptative wing system that reduces the drone’s power requirement even further," he added.

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