Origami and insects- one an ancient Japanese art of paper folding, the other a BBQ pest, but both have one thing in common- they were the inspiration behind Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne’s (EPFL) drone that’s capable of surviving impacts and shock without being damaged.
Engineers have been incorporating origami-inspired hardware into robots for years, enabling them to gain a level of flexibility and shed unnecessary weight for some applications. The same can be said about injecting bio-inspired (biomimicry) designs, which have led to the development of soft robots that mimic their natural counterparts.
EPFL researchers designed their hybrid-origami drone with arms that can be either stiff or flexible depending on the situation. When flying, the arm structures are rigid enough to carry its own weight along with the thrust generated by the propellers. If the drone exceeds its weight or encounters shock from running into something, the arms become flexible, allowing it to mitigate that shock, and therefore lessen any damage.
The secret to the drone’s survivability is the arm design, or rather the internal design, which is comprised of an elastomer membrane that’s sandwiched between two rigid plates. When the drone is at rest or inflight, they maintain a rigid composition, but if the drone encounters shock, the plates are drawn apart, and the arm becomes flexible. Once the initial shock has passed, the arms snap back into their rigid form.
Lead researcher Stefano Mintchev and his team found that they could also use their innovation to create a handheld gripper using the same technology, and allows it to pick up objects with a certain weight threshold, and when that weight is exceeded; the jaws soften and save the object from being crushed.