Engineering news

Swiss researchers develop drone with insect-inspired folding wings


The origami structure can be folded and deployed in a single movement

Researchers at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), in collaboration with NCCR Robotics, have developed a drone with foldable wings, inspired by insects for more efficient deployment and compactness.

The wing is manufactured as a thick origami structure with a foldable multi-layer material. It consists of a composite made of 3 mm Depron foam and a polyester membrane bonded with vacuum cured epoxy. It has foldable sensor hubs that can quickly take off when the drone needs to be utilised.

The wing can be packaged for transportation or deployed for flight in half a second by the user. The user can fold the wing with a single movement in a short amount of time due to the crease pattern developed. On top of the pattern, tiles of different thickness are folded in a 3D pattern to withstand aerodynamic forces during flight. The crease pattern and joint stiffness of the wing improves its flexibility and aeroelastic performance.

In the folded configuration, the wingspan is 43% and the surface is 26% of the respective dimensions in the deployed configuration. This size reduction and foldability enhances drone portability.

The wings are designed to be lightweight for convenience and efficiency, and weigh 26g. The dimensions are 115 x 250 x 40, giving a 160cm2 surface area and 989cm3 volume when folded. Comparatively, the dimensions are 200 x 500 x 16, giving a 620cm2 surface area and 1,600cm3 volume when deployed.

Drones are increasingly adopted in search and rescue missions for imaging, mapping and victim localisation because of their capability to quickly collect and stream information from remote and dangerous areas. 

The design of the crease pattern could potentially influence foldable structures for robotic, aerospace and civil applications in the future.

This is the first time a fully-functional origami wing has been designed and tested in a flying drone, claim the researchers.

EPFL and NCCR Robotics will unveil the drone at IROS 2016 in Daejeon, South Korea. 

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