Researchers at the University of Tokyo’s JSK Lab have developed a modular flying drone capable of adapting its shape to suit its environment. It’s called DRAGON, which conveniently stands for Dual-rotor embedded multilink Robot with the Ability of multi-deGree-of-freedom aerial transformatiON.
DRAGON is powered by ducted fans that can adapt on the fly to form whatever shape is required, shifting the drone from a square to a snake. The technology could be used to allow the drone to fly through small gaps before re-forming on the other side.
It works by relying on a design made up of a series of linked modules. Each module has a pair of ducted fans that can shift to push thrust in any direction required. Connecting the modules is a hinged joint. The robot was made using Intel’s development kit, Euclid, and it’s powered by a battery pack.
The battery is mounted along the robot’s spine – although it may not remain its spine depending on the form the drone has taken. It can stay in the air for three minutes at a time.
Fan Shi, a JSK Lab member who contributed to the research describes DRAGON as “a breakthrough in hardware design which, in a beautiful way, connects a manipulation arm with a ducted fan-driven aerial robot.” The robot seems to be “an ideal platform for aerial manipulation,” he adds, “and I really look forward to its further applications and research.”
The future of DRAGON
Currently, the DRAGON drone decides on its own how to transform – once it’s been given the specifics of the gap it needs to squeeze through.
According to IEEE Spectrum, the potential goes way beyond fitting through small spaces. And it’s easy to see why. The ultimate aim of the researchers is to develop a flying arm that can form new shapes and use those shapes to interact with the world around it by manipulating objects. DRAGON will eventually have 12 modules and could pick up objects using both of its ends to work as a kind of gripping device.
Interesting concept, that’s for sure. Let’s see where it ends up.