After putting its rovers on Mars, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab showed the world that billion dollar hardware isn’t always the answer. And researchers at the EPFL are taking the same technology-on-the-cheap approach with a low-cost autonomous flying drone that simply bumps and crashes into everything in its path instead of relying on expensive sensors and software to avoid obstacles.
Presumably also inspired by the common house fly’s technique of simply crashing into windows until it finds an exit, the drone’s ‘bull in a china shop’ approach is made possible by an outer cage that protects a self-righting propeller and motor inside.
Designed to fly into dangerous areas like disaster sites, the drone can provide aerial recon as it randomly navigates between two points. And while it might not necessarily end up taking the most direct route, the advantage to this low-cost approach to hardware is that it’s OK if the drone somehow gets damaged in the process. It’s easy to repair and cheap to replace if it ends up getting completely destroyed.