An Aerial Robot Capable of Changing Its Shape in Full Flight

This is a world first: researchers from the Institute of Movement Sciences – Étienne Jules Marey (CNRS / Aix-Marseille University) have been inspired by birds to design an aerial robot capable of changing its shape in flight. It can indeed change the orientation of his arms, equipped with motors and blades to propel themselves like a helicopter, to reduce its size and navigate in congested spaces. This work, published May 30, 2018 in the Soft Robotics Journal , paves the way for a new generation of large robots able to sneak into narrow passages, an ideal new tool for exploration and rescue missions.

Birds and winged insects have a great ability to perform quick maneuvers to avoid obstacles they encounter during their flight. This great agility is necessary to navigate in very dense places such as forests or very congested environments. Today, miniature flying machines are also able to adapt their posture (roll or pitch for example) to pass through a narrow opening. However, there is another type of strategy that is equally effective in allowing birds to cross a narrow passageway at high speed, despite their impressive size: they can suddenly change their morphology during the flight by folding their wings and thus move with ease. through all kinds of

Flying robots will increasingly be required to operate in highly congested environments for rescue, exploration or mapping missions. These robots will have to avoid the many obstacles and cross more or less small passages in order to fulfill their mission. With this in mind, researchers at the Institute of Movement Sciences – Étienne Jules Marey (CNRS / Aix-Marseille University) have designed a flying robot, capable of reducing its wingspan in flight to pass through an opening without having a pilot aggressive, too expensive in energy.

This new robot, called Quad-Morphing, has two arms on which are fixed two engines each equipped with blades that allow it to propel itself like a helicopter. Thanks to a mechanism combining flexible and rigid cables, it is able to modify the orientation of its two arms, that is to say to orient them parallel or perpendicular to its central axis, and this in full flight. He manages to reduce his wingspan in half, to cross a narrow passage, and to redeploy, all at a very high speed for an aerial robot (9 km / h) 2 .

The agility of Quad-Morphing is currently determined by the accuracy of its autopilot, which triggers the change of arm orientation when approaching a narrow obstacle based on its position provided by a 3D tracking system developed at laboratory 3 . However, the researchers have equipped the robot with a mini-camera capable of capturing high-speed images (120 images per second), which will enable it to estimate the size of the obstacle by itself in the future. to make the decision to fall back or not. Testing of this new version of Quad-Morphing began in May 2018.


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