It’s inevitable that one day drones will be tasked with handling deliveries, but instead of sending an expensive autonomous robot out into the world with a package in tow, Festo suggests a helium-filled blimp might be a safer and cheaper way to go.
Called the FreeMotionHandling, the flying craft is actually a merger of two previous Festo creations: a flying autonomously-controlled blimp called the eMotionSphere, and the FlexShapeGripper, a bizarre alternative to a traditional robot hand that used a balloon to securely grab onto objects.
Since it’s neutrally buoyant and floats, the 137cm inflatable sphere can be manoeuvred and positioned in any orientation using the ring of battery-powered rotors around its equator — the gripper doesn’t always have to be at the bottom. So after picking something up off a table, the craft could rise upwards and hand it off to a human on the side, as demonstrated in the video.
In its current form, the FreeMotionHandling is dependent on a room filled with sensors and cameras to remotely track and adjust its position while moving about, but one day GPS and onboard cameras could allow it to operate just as accurately out in the wild. Its tiny propellers would be a considerably safer way to deliver packages to people, although a giant inflatable balloon would almost certainly be an easy target for armed anti-drone protesters.