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India’s innovative “shape-shifting drone” that adapts to cargo size

By Chris Stonor

An UAV drone with adjustable arms, making it able to lift packages of different shapes and sizes, is the latest innovation from the researchers of the Robotics Research Centre (RRC) at the International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT-H) in Hyderabad, India, reports

The drone, nicknamed “The Elasticopter”, has been developed by 24-year-old, Suraj Bonagiri, and is considered by some to be an important breakthrough in UAV technology. The prototype is rectangular-shaped with four propellers alongside a flexible chassis (which expands and collapses) that does not cause mid-air turbulence despite such adjustments.

Suraj Bonagiri

Bonagiri explained, “Many delivery drones only focus on the package weight and not the cargo’s size. As drones are usually designed to carry only specific payloads, any forcible fitting and lifting of inappropriate payloads, can lead to instability, inefficiency, and even compromise safety.”

He continued, “In our design, there is zero prop wash interference with the payload no matter its size. In this method of attachment to cargo, the mass is always centred and leads to optimal battery performance.”

The prototype was constructed in the Product Labs of IIIT-H. This resulted in a grant of RS8 lakh from the institute to carry out a second construction. A commercial model is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Prof. Prakash Yalla, Technology Transfer Officer (TTO) and Head, Product Labs, IIIT-H, explained the Elasticopter is a ground-breaking multipurpose quadcopter that people have been thinking about for a long time, “Be it in warehousing, logistics, or agriculture, drones of different sizes are used for specific purposes.”

He continued, “The Elasticopter is not only able to move in any direction and able to hold packages of any size, but it is also capable of expanding and contracting to hold the payload and ensure stability while flying.” Adding, “When the drone becomes flexible, aerodynamics becomes a big challenge and the team has cracked that problem.”

Research on ‘pick and place’ drones for material movement and indoor navigation has been going on for several years at the RRC and Suraj’s design is a successful culmination of two years of work.

Ramesh Loganathan, Professor of Co-Innovation, heading the Research/Innovation outreach at IIIT-H, pointed out, “The stabilisation algorithm is the most crucial aspect in drones deployed for material movement.What we have is a pick and place drone suitable for this.”

He continued, “While weight carrying capacity is only one factor, the variability of weight is the biggest aspect. This drone has a wide range of applications in the future.”

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