Researchers from the Laboratory for Intelligent Systems at Switzerland’s EPFL federal research institute were inspired by the resilience of flying insects, and set out to replicate it in a miniature unmanned aerial vehicle. They succeeded, creating a UAV that can crash into things, fall down, then right itself and get back in the air.
All of the aircraft’s propellers, electronics and other flight surfaces are contained within an open, flexible carbon fiber frame. This protects them in the event of a collision, while still offering some give, so the frame doesn’t just break on impact. The choice of carbon fiber also allows the UAV to remain as lightweight as possible.
When it does fall sideways onto the floor, four carbon fiber legs automatically extend symmetrically from its sides, pushing it back up into its upright “ready for take-off” stance. This is known as its Active Recovery System, and allows it to return to the air as fast as possible.
The UAV is designed to operate autonomously, in cramped hazardous settings with lots of obstacles, but no human helpers to pick it up when it gets knocked down. Such settings could include irradiated nuclear power plants, caves, or collapsed mines.
It can be seen in action in the video below.