DRAGON Drone Can Twist and Change Shape in Midair

The JSK Lab at the University of Tokyo has designed a modular flying robot that propels itself through the air with several small fans. Not only can the drone change into different shapes, like a square or curved line, it can also autonomously decide what shape it needs to change into depending on the space it’s required to navigate.

Calling the University of Tokyo’s new drone the DRAGON doesn’t just reference its form, the name is also an acronym for “Dual-rotor embedded multilink Robot with the Ability of multi-deGree-of-freedom aerial transformatiON.” Its design was modeled off of traditional dragon kites, where the tail is made up of a series of smaller, interlinked kites.

The entire device is built to autonomously alter its shape during flight, allowing the robot to maneuver its way through obstacles that might obscure its path. The project’s researchers imagine the robot to eventually act as a flying arm, moving its way through the air as it picks up and moves objects with a two-fingered grip. The linked modules that compose DRAGON’s body are connected via hinged joints and the entire structure is driven by an Intel Euclid which allows for a 3 minute run time.

The rotors are capable of multi-axial rotation that grants the links a massive expanse in the degrees of freedom of movement.

“A breakthrough in hardware design which, in a beautiful way, connects a manipulation arm with a ducted fan-driven aerial robot.” The robot seems to be an ideal platform for aerial manipulation, and I really look forward to its further applications and research”, said Fan Shi, a research contributor at JSK Lab.

The major advantage of the DRAGON is that with each rotor, and their movement in various directions, it can slither its way into tight spaces with precision, the feature that most aerial robots lack.

Moju Zhao, an assistant professor at the University of Tokyo, said that the company isn’t done yet. “We will [next] move forward to design a ‘multi-legged’ model with our basic link module. Then the robot can not only fly, but also walk on the ground. This can benefit us in terms of the energy efficiency,” he said. “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.”