Last year, engineers at the Intelligent Systems Laboratory of the Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne (EPFL) unveiled a concept for a flying drone that could detach motorized masts from the hull on impact. And will automatically snap back, reducing the risk of damage in accidents. Now they have gone further and created a structure that breaks differently, while maintaining the properties of rigidity and flexibility at the same time.
Modern robotics has one tricky task. Rigid machines are robust, but too heavy and break down irreversibly when overloaded. And flexible-base structures survive, but are unable to carry loads and use tools. It seems that the Swiss engineers managed to find the key to solving this problem - the project manager, Stefano Minchev, talks about the system of controlled stiffness.
The idea is based on observations of insects, in many of which small and thin multi-articulated legs are attached to a strong chitinous and very large body. They are also strong, but they can deform without damage, taking the impact. The engineers repeated the idea, creating a knot of three plates, two of which provide rigidity, and the third is responsible for mobility.
By default, during normal flight, the force vectors force the solid plates to abut against each other, which creates the effect of rigid support. And in an emergency situation, when the machine touches an obstacle with the mast, the force vector changes and the structure breaks, bends in the area of the flexible plate. To then return to the starting position. Without energy consumption, in passive mode, saving the multicopter from irreversible damage.