It happened fast, but drones these days are a dime a dozen. With the air filled with hovering robots, you need something to make your drone stand out from the standard store-bought crowd.
DRAGON (short for “Dual-rotor embedded multi-link Robot with the Ability of multi-deGree-of-freedom aerial transformation”) might be the coolest drone concept you’ve ever seen. Created by a team at the JSK Lab at the University of Tokyo, this necessarily-abbreviated robot is actually meant to be an indoor drone.
You see, since most indoor drones are either small or enclosed in protective cages to keep them from bumping into objects, they can’t interact with the environment to the same degree as if they were placed outside. This is where DRAGON comes in.
In a nutshell, the drone is made up of a series of linked modules held together by many hinged joints. Whenever the DRAGON encounters an obstacle such as a wall or tight corridor, ducted fan thrusters allow it to autonomously change the pitch and roll of each module; effectively changing the shape of the drone to fit through tight spaces.
The prototype consists of four modules and is powered by a battery pack which allows for a full three minutes of flight time (which is a lot, considering how much power is needed to stay airborne and transform at the same time). As for the program powering the drone, it runs on the discontinued Intel Euclid development kit.
Initial tests show the DRAGON can already fly as a straight line, an “L” shape, and as a curled-up circle, but it is also capable of more complex shapes such as a zig-zag and 3D spiral. Since it retains its rather large size, DRAGON’s two ends can be used like an overactuated levitating arm which can interact with its surroundings (fixing air vents or in-wall circuitry will be a lot easier once this guy is finished). Eventually, DRAGON will be able to levitate with up to 12 modules and wrap itself around objects to move them (just like a robotic dragon would).
The drone is still in its prototype stage, but if the tests are anything to go by, DRAGON might just take the cake as the most heavy-duty indoor drone out there.