A new delivery-focused drone developed at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland features a foldable, carbon fiber cage that protects the aircraft and its cargo in case of a collision or fall.
The origami-inspired drone, which was designed in EPFL’s Laboratory of Intelligent Systems with funding of NCCR Robotics, is equipped with several innovations that make it particularly safe, autonomous and easy to transport, the research institute says.
Just as a mail package would, the drone becomes the package that wraps around the cargo before flight. Because of the aircraft’s protective cage, the recipient can catch the drone mid-flight without being injured by the propellers, which are located within the structure and have a safety system so that they stop when the cage is opened.
The origami design means that the frame can be folded and unfolded in a single movement. It can also be flattened in just a few seconds, reducing the drone’s volume by 92% so that it can be slipped inside a backpack, EPFL explains.
Furthermore, the quadcopter can take off and land vertically and carry a package weighing up to 500 grams (1.1 pounds) over a distance of 2 kilometers (1.24 miles).
The drone contains specially designed software to program the delivery: A flight plan is created to ensure the drone avoids obstacles such as trees and buildings, and the aircraft can then be tracked in real time on a tablet or smartphone. Once the package has been delivered, the drone makes its way back on its own. Importantly, the device also has a safety system to prevent it from being hacked and, in the future, will have a parachute to increase its safety in the event of a breakdown.
“This project is a work in progress; in addition to strengthening its ability to detect and avoid objects, we are exploring possibilities to increase the drone’s payload capacity and enhance its autonomy,” says Przemyslaw Kornatowski, who developed the drone. “Throughout the summer, we tested our human-friendly, drone-delivery system on the EPFL campus, delivering items to people over 150 test flights.”