A team of researchers at the University of Tokyo’s JSK Lab . The researchers believe their drone could be used to navigate small spaces and interact with different objects, using its changing shapes to pick up and manipulate all kinds of different things.
The drone is called “Dual-rotor embedded multilink Robot with the Ability of multi-deGree-of-freedom aerial transformatiON,” or DRAGON for short. Fortunately, the drone’s designers are better at robotics than they are at acronyms.
The DRAGON drone is made up of a handful of separate sections, and each section has its own independently-controlled propellers. Even though the sections are attached to each other, this allows each section to move on its own. Semi-autonomous software decides what shape the drone will take and how each section will move to reach that shape.
Currently, the prototype has four sections, but the researchers plan to build a version with twelve sections soon. Such a robot would be able to pick up very large objects of all kinds of shapes, plus fit through very small openings despite its size. It will be a while until such a drone starts showing up for work, but with such versatility it will no doubt find some way to be useful.