The indestructible drone: Ball-shaped aircraft BOUNCES around buildings and disaster zones

  • Swiss engineers have created the ‘world’s first collision-proof drone’
  • Its rotor blades and camera are suspended in a spherical cage
  • Construction means it can bounce off walls without damaging its parts 
  • It's hoped the drone could one day be used in search and rescue missions

Drones could prove invaluable in search and rescue operations as well as disaster scenarios where it is dangerous for relief workers to enter buildings.

But currently quadcopters risk injuring humans with their blades and break easily upon light collisions because of their delicate, exposed parts.

Now engineers have created the ‘world’s first collision-proof drone’ that has a spherical case, meaning it can bounce around buildings like a ball. 

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Engineers have created the ‘world’s first collision-proof drone’ (pictured) that has a spherical case, meaning it can bounce around buildings like a ball

Engineers have created the ‘world’s first collision-proof drone’ (pictured) that has a spherical case, meaning it can bounce around buildings like a ball

The Gimball drone uses obstacles to find its way around buildings, instead of avoiding them, so it could roll along a row of windows before locating an opening, for example.

Scientists from Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne first unveiled their drone in a roll cage made of pentagons last year, but have now won $1 million in a drone competition sponsored by the United Arab Emirates.

‘Gimball can safely fly indoors and in complex environments, is easy to fly, and can be operated close to humans,’ they say on their website.

‘It solves multiple challenges in inspection of industrial facilities, rail and roadways, firefighting, search and rescue, marketing and communication as well as law enforcement.’

The drone, named Gimball, can fly safely indoors
The drone, named Gimball, can fly safely indoors and in confined spaces like pipes

The drone, named Gimball, can fly safely indoors (shown left) and crawl through confined spaces (right) to inspect industrial buildings. It's hopes it could be used to detect survivors in buildings hit by disaster

SERVICE LETS YOU ESTABLISH A NO-FLY ZONE OVER YOUR HOME 

A pilot from California has teamed up with drone makers to create a global database that lets anyone set up no-fly zones above their homes and offices.

To add a zone, users must enter their location, name and an email address to verify the request.

This address is converted into a latitude and longitude point, as well as a series of points that accurately marks out the edges of a property.

For the first property the site doesn’t ask for proof of residence, but for subsequent addresses users need to show a form of identification or utility bill.

The address is then sent to drone makers and added to a no-fly database used each time a drone takes off.

Many drones have technology that automatically prevents them flying over registered regions.

At launch, founder Ben Marcus has partnered with manufacturers Horizon Hobby, Yuneec, Hexo+, PixiPath, Ehang, Drone Deploy and RCFlyMaps.

By partnering with Mr Marcus, these makers promise to adhere to the registered zones but are not under a legal obligation to do so.

This means that the machines could provide a cheap, fast and safe alternative to sending humans into crumbling buildings after earthquakes or in warzones, for example.

The drone’s rotors are suspended inside a free moving spherical carbon fibre cage so they don’t injure humans, or break when hitting obstacles.

Its rotating camera stand - called a gimbal system - and HD camera are also housed in the protective cage.

Images sent from the camera to a remote control unit, allow operators to see what the drone is ‘seeing’,The Washington Times reported.

Because all the delicate machinery is inside the cage, the drone can bounce between roof rafters and roll along uneven floors without damaging itself - or any nearby humans - and remain stable after a collision.

Its structure also enables it to send back close-up images to operators, which could show up details of defects in industrial buildings, for example, Wired reported. 

The engineers behind the drone also claim that it’s simpler to operate than a conventional quadcopter because the drone can bounce off walls and floors, preventing expensive crashes.

The researchers’ company, Flyability, plans to use the prize money to continue developing the drone, including adding infrared night vision and creating software so that it can be easily used by search and rescue professionals.

It aims to enable the drone to be used to find victims, as well as detecting chemical leaks and assess damaged infrastructure and buildings.

Dr Adrien Briod, CTO and co-founder of the company, said: ‘The funds will be used to finalise the development and manufacturing of our beta prototypes, to allow the delivery to our first customers as early as April 2015’.

Currentl, drones risk injuring humans with their blades and break easily upon light collisions because of their delicate, exposed parts. A stock image of'conventional' drone is shown

Currentl, drones risk injuring humans with their blades and break easily upon light collisions because of their delicate, exposed parts. A stock image of'conventional' drone is shown

The drone’s rotors and camera are suspended inside a spherical carbon fibre cage so they don’t injure humans, or break when hitting obstacles. A view seen by an operator is shown

The drone’s rotors and camera are suspended inside a spherical carbon fibre cage so they don’t injure humans, or break when hitting obstacles. A view seen by an operator is shown

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