Morphology plays an important role in behavioral and locomotion strategies of living and artificial systems. There is biological evidence that adaptive morphological changes can not only extend dynamic performances by reducing tradeoffs during locomotion but also provide new functionalities. In this article, we show that adaptive morphology is an emerging design principle in robotics that benefits from a new generation of soft, variable-stiffness, and functional materials and structures. When moving within a given environment or when transitioning between different substrates, adaptive morphology allows accommodation of opposing dynamic requirements (e.g., maneuverability, stability, efficiency, and speed). Adaptive morphology is also a viable solution to endow robots with additional functionalities, such as transportability, protection, and variable gearing. We identify important research and technological questions, such as variable-stiffness structures, in silico design tools, and adaptive control systems to fully leverage adaptive morphology in robotic systems.
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Small-winged drones can face highly varied aerodynamic requirements, such as high manoeuvrability for flight among obstacles and high wind resistance for constant ground speed against strong headwinds that cannot all be optimally addressed by a single aerodynamic profile. Several bird species solve this problem by changing the shape of their wings to adapt to the different aerodynamic requirements. Here, we describe a novel morphing wing design composed of artificial feathers that can rapidly modify its geometry to fulfil different aerodynamic requirements. We show that a fully deployed configuration enhances manoeuvrability while a folded configuration offers low drag at high speeds and is beneficial in strong headwinds. We also show that asymmetric folding of the wings can be used for roll control of the drone. The aerodynamic performance of the morphing wing is characterized in simulations, in wind tunnel measurements and validated in outdoor flights with a small drone.
The ease of use and versatility of drones has contributed to their deployment in several fields, from entertainment to search and rescue. However, drones remain vulnerable to collisions due to pilot mistakes or various system failures. This paper presents a bioinspired strategy for the design of quadcopters resilient to collisions. Abstracting the biomechanical strategy of collision resilient insects’ wings, the quadcopter has a dual-stiffness frame that rigidly withstands aerodynamic loads within the flight envelope, but can soften and fold during a collision to avoid damage. The dual-stiffness frame works in synergy with specific energy absorbing materials that protect the sensitive components of the drone hosted in the central case. The proposed approach is compared to other state-of- the art collision-tolerance strategies and is validated in a 50g quadcopter that can withstand high speed collisions.