A team of young European engineers has been announced as the winners of the world’s largest competition for drones. Their contribution truly stands out in its innovative design, and the application possibilites seem almost endless. Welcome to a tomorrow where the appearance of drones are evovling.
The Drones for Good competition is oftentimes referred to as the equivalent of the label “The World Cup of Drones” and has the intrinsic aim of “finding solutions that will improve people’s lives and provide positive technological solutions to modern day issues”. The competition is annually held in the United Arab Emirates and this year’s competition attracted more than 800 entries from 57 countries. With this number of competing solutions, it was not exactly unexpected that we would see an array of entrants with some truly innovative contributions.
Mistbreaker earlier highlighted its favorite contribution in the Drones for Good battle, further described in the article “Drone Startup aims to plant One Billion Trees a Year”. The company behind it called BioCarbon Engineering measured up well to the competition, but in the final stages it was subdued by Flyability SA, a company from the technological nation of Switzerland. This innovative startup won the top prize of $1 million with “the world’s first collision-tolerant flying robot”, a solution to be put to use in, for instance, search and rescue operations.
The company uses a unique design for its hovering robot Gimball, a type of drone that bounces off walls as a means of making its way to where other drones cannot. By utilizing its physical features, this neat thing can navigate its way past barriers and through buildings in a manner similar to flying insects. The mesh cage surrounding the motorized platform works as a 360 degree bumper, and does not only protect the electronics but also makes it safer to be used near people, as compared to other more conventional drones. The protective cage brings the drone the ability to crash without losing stability, and it moves independently from the motor and the camera. Below is a picture showing the design:
As Bloomberg describes the premises for the Drones for Good competition, teams competing in the event had to demonstrate their technology could provide a public service in areas such as disaster relief, humanitarian aid, logistics and education. The prototype drones also had to be within three years of being ready to deploy, and finalists in the competition had to give a live demonstration and provide detailed technical specifications. The founder of the winning company, 29 year old Patrick Thévoz, tells the news site that the prize money will be used to move on from prototype phase to commercial production. Here is the company’s Drones for Good submission video:
The company describes the large picture regarding the main features of its solution on their homepage, and these are some points they are highlighting:
- As Gimball is not disturbed by collisions, it uses obstacles to find its way instead of avoiding them, offering a simple solution to a complex problem.
- Gimball can safely fly indoors and in complex environments, is easy to fly, and can be operated close to humans.
- 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 simplicity of the drone is paramount to its usefulness and robustness. As mentioned earlier, the solution is inspired by nature and could thus possibly be categorized as another intriguing innovation tied to the buzzword of biomimicry. If you are not acquainted with this term, biomimicry or biomimetics is the imitation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems. Flyability AS has had nature in mind from the beginning, as PhD student Adrien Briod, company co-founder and CTO, told Phys.org already in 2013:
“Flying insects handle collisions quite well. For them, shocks aren’t really accidents, because they’re designed to bounce back from them. This is the direction we decided to take in our research”
As it turns out, the company is already off to a good start. Flyability already has customers in Europe who use the robot to inspect the inside of container ships and hard-to-reach parts of buildings. It seems very likely that with the recent buzz things will move on very rapidly, especially considering the solution’s multitude of applications.