While aerial drones are excellent at capturing scenes no other aircraft could attempt, they're still limited when it comes to skirting through hard-to-reach areas and avoiding flight-ending obstacles.
Taking a cue from the insect world, Swiss company Flyability has created the Gimball, an aerial drone surrounded by a spherical, elastic cage that allows it to safely bounce off obstacles. A rigid double carbon-fiber ring fixed to the exterior sphere passively rotates during collisions to stabilize the system and maintain vertical flight.
"Flying insects handle collisions quite well," co-designer Adrien Briod told Phys.org. "For them, shocks aren't really accidents, because they're designed to bounce back from them. This is the direction we decided to take in our research."
Thanks to this design, the Gimball has the potential to be a game changer for disaster situations — flying through tight spaces (such as those of collapsed buildings) or navigating hallways filled with dense smoke. It was this unique capability, as well as its claim as the first drone safe to fly in contact with humans, that helped it score a cool $1 million last weekend in the United Arab Emirates "Drones for Good" competition.
"We struggled to find funding to develop our search and rescue drone but this UAE Government Summit initiative, Drones for Good, means we can commercially develop our project within a year, and with Flyability able to go where it is dangerous for rescuers, help save lives," Flyability team lead Patrick Thevoz said in a statement.
Thevoz told The National that the prize money will also allow them to "hire two more engineers, invest in more advanced sensing technology and more robust materials."
You can check out the Gimball's winning performance, navigating through a house beyond the line of sight, below.
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