Swiss engineers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have developed a new foldable and protective drone that is able to deliver parcels weighing up to 500g.
With a drone, things like letters, medicine, first-aid supplies and food can be delivered quickly, cheaply and autonomously without having to worry about traffic, blocked roads, or even a lack of roads. It is programmed to avoid obstacles, and can reach destinations on steep or uneven terrain.
The drone was designed in EPFL’s Laboratory of Intelligent Systems with funding from NCCR Robotics. The drone’s foldable carbon-fibre cage acts as the package that wraps around the cargo before flight. This cage protects the drone and the cargo in case of a collision or fall.
With the cage in place, the recipient can catch the drone mid-flight without worrying about being injured by the propellers. The propellers are located within the structure and have a safety system so they stop when the cage is opened.
The origami-inspired design means that the frame can be folded and unfolded in a single movement. It can be flattened in just a few seconds, reducing the drone's volume by 92% so that it can easily be slipped inside a backpack.
The drone itself is a multicopter with four propellers, and it is able to take off and land vertically, enhancing its accuracy. It is able to carry a package weighing up to 500g over a distance of 2km.
The drone contains specially designed self-flying software to program the delivery. The flight plan helps it avoid obstacles such as trees and buildings, and the drone can be tracked in real time on a tablet or smartphone. And once the package has been delivered, the drone makes its way back on its own. The device also has a safety system to prevent it from being hacked.
The next step for the team is to strengthen the ability of the drone to detect and avoid objects. They are also exploring possibilities to increase the drone’s payload capacity and enhance its autonomy. The drone will also have a parachute to increase its safety in the event of a breakdown.