Drones are awesome, but there are only so many conventional quadcopters you can see before you start to get jaded and lose your sense of wonder. Fortunately, researchers from the University of Tokyo are ready and waiting in the wings to reintroduce said wonder — courtesy of their new drone designed to look like a dragon.
Standing (and we’re a bit dubious about this one) for “Dual-Rotor embedded multilink Robots of multi-degree-of-freedom aerial transformation,” DRAGON is seemingly modeled after a single line flying dragon kite. Only in this case, it uses a series of modules with a pair of ducted fan thrusters on each to help it maneuver through the air in spectacular fashion. By changing the fan thrusters’ direction to generate vectored thrust, the DRAGON drone is capable of carrying out an astonishing range of transformative motions in the air; transitioning into different shapes depending on what it is required to do.
“DRAGON does not have to contact with the ground, so the motion freedom is higher than other multi-linked robots from two aspects: Mobility and manipulation ability,” Moju Zhao, an assistant professor at the University of Tokyo, told Digital Trends.
The mobility means that the robot can move easily through complex environments, even passing through narrow spaces like a snake. Such abilities could prove very helpful for inspection or disaster rescue tasks in the future. The manipulation ability, meanwhile, means that the robot could function as what Zhao describes as a “flying human arm,” potentially being augmented with a gripper to carry out precision work with the flexibility of an actual arm.
At present, the drone’s battery life only lets it stay airborne for up to three minutes at a time, although this could be improved in the future. It could also support up to 12 linked modules, giving it an enormous amount of agility and shape-shifting prowess.
“We will [next] move forward to design a ‘multi-legged’ model with our basic link module,” Zhao continued. “Then the robot can not only fly, but also walk on the ground. This can benefit us in terms of the energy efficiency. Such autonomous decision about locomotion according to the environment is very interesting research. Our ultimate dream is to achieve the flying humanoid, like an unmanned Iron Man.”