Pocket-Size Drone Can Fold Up Like Origami

A compact, foldable drone inspired by origami can unfold itself automatically and take flight within a fraction of a second. Hordes of these quadcopters, which are about the size of an outstretched palm, could be released over a disaster zone to take photographs and make contact with survivors, researchers say.

This drone not only fits inside your pocket, it can also self-deploy in half a second, said Dr. Stefano Mintchev, a professor of bio-inspired robotics at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, in Switzerland. "You can take it out of the box, switch on the motor, and it's ready to fly," Floreano told Live Science.

When the device is not in use, the arms — which are made of Fiberglass and light yet rigid polyester — fold up into a trapezoid. When switched on, the force of the propellers causes the arms to unfold horizontally. Then, magnets keep the arms locked into position.

In order for the drone to remain stable during flight, two of the propellers (diagonally across from each other) need to spin in the opposite direction from the other two, the researchers said. The propellers all spin the same direction while the drone unfolds, but a sensor detects when the arms have locked into position, and within 50 milliseconds, the direction of two of the rotors is reversed, so the drone is ready to take off.

The drone only weighs about 1.3 ounces (36 grams). When folded, it fits in a box about 6.3 by 6.3 by 1.4 inches (160 by 160 by 35 millimeters). Unfolded, it takes up a region of about 2.3 by 2.3 by 1.4 inches (58 by 58 by 35 mm), Mintchev said.

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