Publication: Foldable Drones: from Biology to Technology
Current drones are developed with a fixed morphology that can limit their versatility and mission capabilities. There is biological evidence that adaptive morphological changes can not only extend dynamic performances, but also provide new functionalities. In this paper, we present different drones from our recent developments where folding is used as a mean of morphological adaptation. First, we show how foldable wings can enable the transition between aerial and ground locomotion or to fly in different aerodynamic conditions, advancing the development of multi-modal drones with an extended mission envelope. Secondly, we show how foldable structures allow to transport drones easily without sacrificing payload or flight endurance. Thirdly, we present a foldable frame that makes drones to withstand collisions. However, the real potential of foldable drones is often limited by the use of conventional design strategies and rigid materials, which motivates to use smart, functional materials. Lastly, we describe a dielectric elastomer based foldable actuator, and a variable stiffness fiber using low melting point alloy for drones. The foldable actuator acts as an active compliant joint with folding functionality and mechanical robustness in drones, thanks to the compliance of dielectric elastomer, a class of smart materials. We also show re-configuration of a drone enabled by the variable stiffness fiber that can transition between rigid and soft states.