A robotic Drone. / Photo by: Efman via Shutterstock


Most applications of robotics are focused on aerial drones that have potentials in many settings. But typical aerial drones are designed to navigate outdoor environments, and if used indoors, several obstacles can endanger the flying robots. Scientists at the University of Tokyo, Japan created a different kind of robot that can fly, reshape itself, and enter gaps indoors.

The new robot is called Dual-rotor Embedded Multilink Robot with the Ability of Multi-Degree-of-Freedom Aerial Transformation or DRAGON. As the name suggests, the robot can fly using ducted fans and navigate through tight spaces. The overall body design of DRAGON employs a modular system that enables it to change shape, which gives it the ability to assume a square object, a round form, and a snake body, among others.

Upon closer inspection, the machine is composed of several connected modules and each module has a pair of ducted fans. The fans can be steered in different angles so the modules can thrust in almost every direction. The connection between the modules is managed by a powered hinged joint, while the component responsible for controlling DRAGON is an Intel Euclid, a compact computer with Intel Atom CPU and a built-in camera.

In a demonstration at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation, DRAGON can autonomously make the decision to transform when it detects the narrowing of space. Also, the robot can fly in different styles, such as in a straight line and in a spiral, and can use its both ends to pick up objects.

“A breakthrough in hardware design which, in a beautiful way, connects a manipulation arm with a ducted fan-driven aerial robot. An ideal platform for aerial manipulation and I really look forward to its further applications and research,” said Fan Shi, an author of the study from the JSK Lab at the University of Tokyo.