Flying robot can shapeshift midair to fit through any kind of opening or space

Emerald Pellot

Researchers at the University of Tokyo created DRAGON, a flying robot. The name loosely stands for “Dual-Rotor embedded multilink Robots of multi-deGree-of-freedom aerial transformation.” DRAGON is an indoor drone that can shape-shift in midair. 

Any robot that navigates an interior space is going to need to maneuver around obstacles, but DRAGON is also designed to fit through narrow holes and spaces. In a clip shared on Instagram, you can see it’s long, dragon kite-like frame. The robot can fly in the air for about three minutes and when it encounters a hole, it’s modular body twists and realigns to fit through the small opening. 

DRAGON is powered by ducted fans and made of linked modules that allow it to contort. But what’s most exciting about it, is the robot’s ability to autonomously detect when and how to shape-shift. DRAGON can immediately self-determine its optimal form. At a moment’s notice, it can become a straight line, square, L-shape, zigzag or spiral. 

For its inventors, the aerial robot has a lot of promise. Researchers imagine a future where DRAGON acts a flying arm, able to change form but also able to interact with objects in the environment. New models will eventually be able to pick up items with both ends of the robot or wrap around objects to move them. 

“[It’s] a breakthrough in hardware design which, in a beautiful way, connects a manipulation arm with a ducted fan-driven aerial robot,” one of the researchers, Fan Shi, told Spectrum. “I really look forward to its further applications and research.”

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