Nov 13, 2017 | By David

Drones are becoming more and more of an everyday item, as the formerly advanced technology is now used for things like parcel delivery. This particular application has been limited in the past due to the size requirements for larger packages, but some progress has recently been made by a team of researchers at Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. They made use of 3D printing technology in the development of an innovative, origami-inspired new drone, which can carry packages weighing up to 500 grams.

The major innovation of the drone, which was developed by EPFL's Laboratory of Intelligent Systems with funding from NCCR Robotics, is that it is designed to wrap around the item in need of delivery. It has a foldable carbon-fiber cage that can wrap around the item, doubling as the packaging, and it also protects the drone and the cargo in case of a collision or fall. Just one movement is required to fold or unfold the cage, reducing its volume by over 90 percent so that it can be easily transported.

Parts of the drone were produced using 3D printing technology, in order to reduce the weight. The drone flies with four different rotary propellers, which have a special safety system that stops them from rotating when the carbon-fiber cage of the drone is opened. This means that the deliveries will be much more efficient, as the recipient can just reach out and catch the drone in order to get their cargo, whatever it may be.

The drone can be controlled and tracked remotely from an app for smartphones or other mobile devices, but it is set up to fly autonomously with the proprietary software written by the EPFL researchers.The drone was tested out on campus at EPFL, as a proof of concept before it eventually goes to commercial distribution. The sight and gentle sound of multicopters floating around became an everyday thing, as 3D printed PCBs were successfully delivered to students for the whole summer.

Several potential customers have been considered for this unique new drone, as the extra weight that it is able to carry over distances of up to 2km means that the applications for drone technology could soon expand dramatically. As well as everyday tasks like delivering mail, the developers from EPFL also foresee the drone being used to deliver first aid supplies to people who are trapped after natural disasters or in other emergency situations.

"This project is a work in progress - in addition to strengthening its ability to detect and avoid objects, we are exploring possibilities to increase the drone's payload capacity and enhance its autonomy, " says Przemyslaw Kornatowski, who developed the drone. Future versions of the drone should see a parachute being implemented for improved safety. Improvements should also be made to the software and the design of the drone to allow it to better avoid collisions.

While still in its early stages, this drone is definitely an impressive and simple solution to a huge range of delivery issues. This is mostly great news, although we’d advise mailmen perhaps to start looking for alternative sources of income, as their days may be numbered.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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