Delivery drone design improvements take inspiration from insects

By Lucy Ingham

An improved delivery drone design that ensures that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can carry more than previous models and fly in increasingly precarious conditions has been patented.

Created by a researcher at Purdue University, the drone has been developed to mimic some of the behaviours of insects.

“Our drone design was inspired by the wings and flight patterns of insects,” explained Xiumin Diao, an assistant professor in Purdue’s School of Engineering Technology.

“We created a drone design with automatic folding arms that can make in-flight adjustments.”

This design results in improved stability in windy conditions and the ability to carry heavier loads than the widely available, fixed rotor models.

This is because the folding arms can move during flight, allowing the drone to shift its centre of gravity as needed. This not only allows it to adapt to windier conditions, but makes the drone more energy efficient as it increases the range of rotor thrust that can be used.

“The drones on the market now have fixed arms and that greatly reduces their maximum payload capacity when the payload is offset their center of gravity,” he explained.

“Our design allows a larger payload because the movable arms can liberate part of rotor thrust to fight the weight on the overall device.”

Applications of improved delivery drone design

While there is a clear commercial application for a delivery drone design that can fly in windier conditions, particularly given the number of companies looking into making delivery drones a commercial reality, there are also benefits for other drone applications.

In particular, the drone design has benefits for search-and-rescue operations due to its ability to operate in severe weather.

This is particularly beneficial in this instance as harsh weather conditions can limit other types of search-and-rescue operations, meaning drones that can reliably operate in such circumstances would be of significant benefit.

The drone has been outlined in research published in the ASME Journal of Dynamic Systems, Measurement and Control. Having patented the improved delivery drone design, Perdue is now seeking partners to commercialise the technology.