If you pilot a drone long enough, sooner or later, you're likely to smash it into a building, a wall, a tree, or the ground.
And often enough, when drones crash, they break.
Flying insects, however, knock into plants, walls, and windows all the time. And, so long as they're not being swatted, or smashed against the grill of a speeding car, they're often fine.
So a team of researchers in Switzerland looked at insects to design a new type of frame for a drone that might survive a crash without suffering serious damage. Insects, they found, have exoskeletons and remain rigid enough for flight - but also flexible enough to absorb the energy of an impact.
The result of their work is a prototype that's stiff up in the air, but safely collapses upon collision, said one of the drone's inventors, Dr. Stefano Mintchev, by phone from Lausanne, Switzerland.
"The solution we found was in the wings of insects, which revert from a stiff state to a soft state during collisions" said Mintchev, who works at the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, or EPFL. "Wasps and bees employ this interesting biomechanical strategy to avoid damage."
A drop-test comparison of the prototype versus a conventional, fully-rigid drone showed the new design was twice as good at dissipating the energy of a collision as the regular model, Mintchev said.
The design also avoids drawbacks associated with other approaches to mitigating damage.