Pufferfish Mimicking Drones to Improve Aerial Safety

When in danger, the device can expand 20 inches to 33 inches in diameter.
Loukia Papadopoulos

If you have ever seen a pufferfish, you know this species knows how to protect itself against oncoming danger. It does this by blowing up in size to seem more threatening.

Now, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have designed a robot that can do the same thing and have called it PufferBot. 


“We were trying to design a safer robot that could communicate safety information to the user,” said graduate student Hooman Hedayati. “We started by looking at how animals do the same thing."

Thwarting drone collisions

More specifically, Hedayati and his team were looking to thwart drone collisions in order to improve their safety.

“I’ve been working with drones for years, but whenever I go out and fly robots, I still feel not confident,” Hedayati said. “What happens if it falls on someone and hurts them? Technologies like PufferBot can help.”

So far, this fear that drones may cause accidents has prevented them from being welcome in our homes, added Hedayati.

“We’ve been told that robots are great and can do a lot of tasks,” he said. “But where are these robots? Why are they not in our houses? Why do you see them inside cages in factories?”

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This is where PufferBot comes into play. The device functions like an “airbag” featuring hoops of plastic that can quickly inflate from roughly 20 inches to 33 inches (50-83 cm) in diameter.

Expanding when in danger

When PufferBot senses danger, it expands in all directions creating a safe space between the drone's mechanics and any potential obstacles. Best of all it weighs just a little more than one pound (450 g) meaning it won't weigh the drone down.

“It can act as a temporary cage,” Hedayati said. “It also communicates with users to tell them: ‘Don’t come close to me.’” 

The new invention could effectively be used in search and rescue operations allowing drones to search for survivors in collapsing buildings while avoiding being hit by rubble. 

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