Researchers Create Feathered Drone for Easier Maneuverability

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) has equipped a drone with feathers in order to increase its precision during flight. According to EPFL, the device can spread or close its wings while flying – making it easier to maneuver and more resistant in high winds.

When they need to change direction, increase their speed or counter headwinds, birds alter the configuration of their wings. To steer, for example, they spread one wing and slightly retract the other. By adjusting their wingspan in this way, they create a calculated imbalance that causes them to turn. Up to now, only birds could do this so effectively, says EPFL.

After observing birds in flight, researchers from the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems had the idea of building an energy-efficient winged drone capable of changing its wingspan, flying at high speeds and moving through tight spaces. EPFL says their research has just been published in the Royal Society journal Interface Focus.

Dario Floreano and his team wanted to develop a drone that could meet various aerodynamic requirements. It had to be capable of flying between obstacles, making sharp turns and coping with strong winds. By changing its geometry mid-flight, the drone can meet all these criteria, according to the school.

The moving part, located on the outer wings, works like a bird’s quill feathers, which are the large feathers at the edge of the wing.

“We were inspired by birds: They can radically transform the size and shape of their wings because they have an articulated skeleton that is controlled by muscles and covered in feathers that overlap when the wings are folded,” explains Matteo di Luca. The drone also has feathers that it can fold and overlap like a fan.

According to EPFL, one of the many challenges was designing and building the complex morphing mechanism – in other words, mimicking nature to construct the drone.

This work was funded by NCCR Robotics.

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