Pioneering Morphing Drone Developed at UC Berkeley


At UC Berkeley, a team has engineered an advanced drone capable of transforming its shape while flying. This innovative drone is known as the Midair Reconfigurable Quadcopter.

Drones, also known as UAVs, autonomously pilot themselves. First theorized by Nikola Tesla in 1915, such devices currently find use in applications ranging from military operations to wedding photography.

Abraham Karem, recognized as the progenitor of contemporary drone technology, made significant strides with his creations during the Yom Kippur War and subsequently with the design of the iconic Predator drone, earning him the moniker ‘Father of the Drone’.

UC Berkeley quadcopter

This innovative drone demonstrates the ability to perch on wires mid-flight.

Morphing Capabilities of the Drone

The research experts at UC Berkeley’s High Performance Robotics Laboratory (HiPeRLab) have harnessed the capabilities of passive, unpowered hinges that enable the drone to alter its shape for optimal maneuverability. With these hinges, the drone conserves energy by bypassing the need for energy-intensive actuators and sensors, devices crucial in producing motion within machines.

As the rotors cease to spin or shift in rotation, the hinges fold inward and conversely extend when activated. Through this technique, the drone boasts the ability to conform to various environments efficiently. It can thread itself through slim gaps or grasp items with its adaptable arms.

This transforming quadcopter can navigate tightly constricted spaces by folding its rotors or partially stopping them. The researchers point out its feat of wire perching when all arms fold downwards, strategically shifting its center of mass to maintain stability on a wire.

The announcement of this morphing drone was initially made in 2019 through a scholarly paper, with a public video demonstration following recently.

In a separate innovation last October, Caltech researchers unveiled Leonardo, a bipedal robot that can navigate a tightrope and deftly skateboard.

Contributions from HiPeRLab

The focus at HiPeRLab is on groundbreaking research in robotics with applications set to enhance our day-to-day lives, with a special emphasis on safety, precision in localization, and innovative design. They showcase an array of accomplishments on their YouTube channel.

HiPeRLab has also developed a “memoryless” planner for acquiring data in outdoor spaces that are structurally complex. This planner generates motion based on real-time depth camera analytics. They describe their technology as a “receding horizon planner” that adapts dynamically to environmental changes.

This research on memoryless planning has been backed by the Army Research Laboratory.

The Ascent of Drone Technology

Drones, colloquially known as miniature pilotless aircraft or flying mini robots, have surged in popularity. Despite limited mass adoption, corporations have begun integrating and piloting services with drones, often reaching successes in areas traditional methods have not. Drones offer tremendous advantages in exploring humanly unreachable areas and streamlining various tasks efficiently.

With their rising commercial application, investments in drone-oriented companies are flourishing. Advanced drones are utilized for deliveries, surveillance during sensitive events, and agricultural operations such as crop fertilization. Analysts suggest that by 2025, the drone impact could approximate $82 billion, thereby creating numerous employment opportunities and significantly benefiting the U.S. economy.

Still in a developmental phase, the potential and scope of drone technology continue to expand, with expectations for substantial growth in the future.

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