A drone with morphing wings offers agility and endurance

A drone with morphing wings promises the best of both worlds. The agility of a quadcopter and the endurance and speed of a fixed-wing drone.

A drone with morphing wings offers agility and endurance

Over the last couple of years, a team of researchers from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland has refined their bird-based drone design to now include morphing wings and tail so that it can fly like a raptor with “unparalleled agility.”

For their latest version, the EPFL researchers have combined the shapeshifting wings with a morphing tail, in an effort to mimic the flight capabilities of the Northern Goshawk raptor. These predators are able to cut through forests to chase down their prey while at the same time achieving optimal flight endurance when soaring.

“Goshawks move their wings and tails in tandem to carry out the desired motion, whether it is rapid changes of direction when hunting in forests, fast flight when chasing prey in the open terrain, or when efficiently gliding to save energy,” says Enrico Ajanic, the first author of the study.

Instead of flapping its wings, this drone has a propeller mounted upfront which according to the researchers is the most energy-efficient way. The drone will adjust both its wings and tail to achieve the optimal aerodynamic performance for the task at hand.

“Our design extracts principles of avian agile flight to create a drone that can approximate the flight performance of raptors, but also tests the biological hypothesis that a morphing tail plays an important role in achieving faster turns, decelerations, and even slow flight,” says Dario Floreano, who led the research.

Hovering in place is not an option

The drone developed by the EPDL team offers very impressive flight times and distances while maintaining agility. What it doesn’t do, however, is hovering in place like a regular quadcopter.

“The drone we just developed is somewhere in the middle,” says Floreano. “It can fly for a long time yet is almost as agile as quadrotors. This combination of features is especially useful for flying in forests or in cities between buildings.”

Watch the video below to see the drone in action and to hear from the researchers directly. It is an impressive piece of kit and it quite amazing to see the kind of development that goes into creating new drone technology.

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About the author

Haye Kesteloo

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