Scientists Have Created a Novel Drone That Shapeshifts Mid-Flight

And it can balance perfectly on power lines.
Chris Young
The Midair Reconfigurable QuadcopterHiPeR Lab/YouTube

Scientists at UC Berkeley developed an experimental drone called the Midair Reconfigurable Quadcopter. As the name implies, the drone can shape-shift in midair, a report from NewAtlas reveals.

The team, from UC Berkeley's High Performance Robotics Laboratory (HiPeRLab), used passive unactuated hinges, meaning that no extra battery-sapping actuators or sensors are required. In other words, each of the hinges folds inwards when its rotor stops or goes in reverse, and outwards when the rotor is powered up.

The quadcopter is able to fold any two of its arms using this method and still maintain stable flight. That means the drone can shift into a number of different shapes. The researchers say that it could, for example, squeeze through a narrow opening, and its folded-down arms can also be used to grasp objects.

Balancing on power cables

The Midair Reconfigurable Quadcopter can also suddenly drop down through a narrow opening, as its arms will passively fold as its rotors all go into reverse or simply stop. It can then quickly go out of free-fall by powering up its rotors again, causing all the arms to extend once again. The researchers also say the drone can perch itself on a hanging wire, such as a power cable. When all arms are folded downwards, the drone's center of mass is shifted below the wire, meaning it can balance itself without falling.

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In October last year, a team from Caltech revealed a similar machine that added drone rotors to a bipedal walking robot. This machine was able to balance on a tight rope and a skateboard using its powered-up rotors for balance. UC Berkeley's impressive shape-shifting drone was first announced to the world in a 2019 paper in the journal IEEE Xplore, though UC Berkeley only just revealed footage (viewable above) of the drone in action.

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