Folding rescue drone can transform its shape while in the air

Researchers with the University of Zurich have created a flying drone designed specifically for rescue missions. Though aerial vehicles designed for emergency situations aren't anything new, the researchers have bestowed their model with a unique ability: wings that briefly fold inward, enabling the drone to fly through narrow passages.

Rescue missions may involve flying between rubble after an earthquake or into buildings from a distance. Such situations often present only narrow cracks and other openings for a drone to enter, making existing commercial options unsuitable for these missions. The newly developed drone out of Switzerland is different.

Working under the National Centre of Competence in Research Robotics, two teams created a drone inspired by birds, specifically their ability to fold their wings mid-flight to get through narrow spaces. As with these birds, which extend their wings right after passing through the space, the drone is able to withdraw, and then extend, its arms while in the air.

The drone is a quadcopter featuring four propellers able to rotate independently. The arms to which the rotors are attached can fold via connected servo motors. A control system brings all of the components together by adjusting the propeller thrust as the arm positions change, enabling the shape to transform during flight.

In addition to the standard X-shape configuration, the drone can change into an H-shape configuration for narrow passages and an O-shaped configuration to bring the arms close to the body. Another shape, the "T," makes it possible to get a mounted camera very close to a subject. In the future, the rescue drone may be equipped with an autonomous system that enables it to adjust its shape on its own as necessary for specific environments.