This Flying Robot Can Transform Itself to Pass Through Complex Spaces

The 'DRAGON' robot developed by researchers at University of Tokyo can change its shape to move through complex environments and can even manipulate objects.'
Kashyap Vyas

The field of aerial robots has been a space that saw very fewer advancements because of the complexities involved, particularly indoors. They cannot have the same degree of freedom that they have outside, and responding to rapid changes is always a hurdle.

In essence, they lacked the flexibility to do things on their own and make successful decisions in time. For a long time, aerial robots shared the same design characteristics as that of drones.

This is not necessarily bad, but the single entity proved to fail under scenarios that needed flexibility.

For drones, this is not a constraint at all because most of the time, they spend their time outdoors. And you know how much precision it takes to fly them indoors without busting into stuff.

The robotics engineers at the JSK Lab at the University of Tokyo, however, tried a different approach at aerial robots – a modular design. Their creation was given a fitting name called DRAGON which stands for “Dual-rotor embedded multilink Robot with the Ability of multi-deGree-of-freedom aerial transformatiON.”

The dragon contains individual links that come together to form a single entity. Each link has two thrusters that power them.

The rotors are capable of multi-axial rotation that grants the links a massive expanse in the degrees of freedom of movement. They are very interested in their individual form, but it’s a whole different story when they combine together and form the DRAGON.


“A breakthrough in hardware design which, in a beautiful way, connects a manipulation arm with a ducted fan-driven aerial robot.” The robot seems to be an ideal platform for aerial manipulation, and I really look forward to its further applications and research”, said Fan Shi, a research contributor at JSK Lab.

Each module uses a powered hinge joint to connect with each other. One of the perks of using such a system is that the DRAGON can change its shape on the fly.

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The major advantage of the DRAGON is that with each rotor, and their movement in various directions, it can slither its way into tight spaces with precision, the feature that most aerial robots lack.

This Flying Robot Can Transform Itself to Pass Through Complex Spaces
Source: JSK Lab/University of Tokyo

On the software front, the DRAGON runs on the Intel’s Euclid development kit. The flying robot gets its power from a battery pack that sits between the rotors and gives the link 3 minutes of airtime.

The DRAGON also has the ability to determine which shape it should transform into upon analyzing the gap and the complexity of the environment it needs to pass through. For the researchers, however, DRAGON is more than just about moving through complex spaces.

The flying robot can do more with additional modules attached to it. It can pick up things while staying in the air or wrap around objects and move them.

This is just a prototype though; we will have to wait quite a bit to see DRAGON in its fully optimized mode and hit the commercial market.

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