EPFL Engineers Develop a Raptor-Inspired Drone

This northern goshawk-inspired drone features artificial feathers that enable it to adjust the shape of its wing and tail.

Cabe Atwell
2 months agoDrones / Robotics / Sensors
The drone is capable of quickly changing direction, flying lower without hitting the ground, and reducing air resistance when flying fast. (📷: EPFL/Alain Herzog)

Engineers from EPFL's Laboratory of Intelligent Systems have developed a drone inspired by the northern goshawk, a quick and powerful raptor that flies through forests. The team studied three main characteristics of the bird: the shape of its wings and tail and its flight behavior. Then, this information was used to build the drone.

The researchers originally designed a bird-inspired drone back in 2016, which was capable of morphing its wing. Now, with artificial feathers, the new model can adjust the shape of its wing and tail. "It was fairly complicated to design and build these mechanisms, but we were able to improve the wing so that it behaves more like that of a goshawk," says Enrico Ajanic, a Ph.D. student in the lab. "Now that the drone includes a feathered tail that morphs in synergy with the wing, it delivers unparalleled agility."

These changes occur so that the drone can move in a different direction faster, fly lower without hitting the ground, and lessen air resistance when flying quickly. The propeller, which is used for forward thrust, is more efficient and makes the wing and tail system applicable to airplanes and winged drones.

Winged drones are advantageous over quadrotor designs because the flight time is longer, even though they weigh the same. However, quadrotors have better dexterity since they are capable of hovering in place and making sharp turns. Combining these features makes it useful to fly in forests or cities between buildings.

It's difficult to fly this new type of drone since there are a large amount of wing and tail configurations. The team is planning on integrating artificial intelligence into the flight system, allowing it to fly semi-autonomously.

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