Researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Intelligent Systems have developed a spherical drone using an origami-like carbon-fibre cage. The spherical drone can be folded up to be more compact when not in the air, and unfolds to protect packages of up to 500 g (17.6 oz) while making deliveries.
Delivery drones have numerous advantages; by being able to fly over obstacles, drones can reach their destination regardless of terrain, the state of the roads, debris or traffic. This means that drone-borne packages can be worth sending, even if they are small and lightweight. This means it can deliver medicines or other vital payloads where they need to go.
The only problem is that in order to carry larger packages the drones have to be larger, which is not the only problem in the air, but on the ground when it comes to storing the drones. In addition, this means larger blades that could be dangerous to be near during takeoffs and landings.
The new EPFL drone gets around all of this obstacles by containing both the package, which is suspended in the centre of the apparatus and propellers inside a folding composite cage. The origami-inspired drone protects the payload in the event of collision or fall. When the drone is opened, the cage folds flat in a single movement, reducing the craft's volume by 92 percent and making it small enough to stow in a backpack. The drone is controlled through a smartphone app and can follow a flight plan to avoid obstacles, as well as returning autonomously to base after it's completed its mission.
The drone has a number of safety features that include protection against hacking and a future version will include a parachute. The video below introduces the foldable drone: