One of the main problems with consumer drones right now is that they’re not exactly resilient. If you crash one (which is really quite easy to do), it’s likely that parts will splinter off in all directions, putting passers-by, and probably yourself, in danger. Many of the more popular drones on the market can cost between $500 and $1,500, so any damage is likely going to be a costly endeavor for owners to repair.
But new research from the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) suggests this could soon be a problem of the past. A group of researchers were inspired by the properties of insect wings, which tend to comprise rigid sections connected to more flexible, shock-absorbing joints—a combination that makes the flying bugs both strong and pliant.
The group’s prototype has fiberglass wings that can easily bend in any direction. The wings snap into a rigid magnetic core that houses the battery. When the core is connected to the wings, they become fixed in place, allowing the drone to stay stable as it flies. But because it’s malleable, when it crashes, it can bend out of shape, without breaking to pieces.
The wings of the prototype are also tied to the core by small rubber bands, so that when the drone crashes and the core separates from the wings, it doesn’t go flying off in a different direction. If the drone falls to ground, it reforms and can start flying again.
The researchers dropped the drone from a height of 2 meters (6.5 ft) 50 times, completely separating the magnetic core from the wings each time, with no damage to the device. It appears, based on the video above, that the researchers also had no trouble flying the drone after ramming it into a wall.
While this is just a research project, the results seem promising for the drone-filled future that so many companies—Amazon, Google, UPS, Domino’s, and Chipotle to name very few—seem so intent on bringing about. If this prototype turns out to influence future commercial drone development, then at least when drones are everywhere overhead, they won’t smash into pieces and rain down on our heads when something goes wrong.