Remote-controlled quadcopters like the push-propeller drones that mapped the Matterhorn have exploded in popularity this year. But exposed propellers make them a hazard to people, pets, and birds—not to mention they’re easily breakable. The next generation of drones will be smaller and more durable, like this fist-sized drone that flaps through the air like a jellyfish.
To be clear, this little aqua-inspired floater doesn’t yet have the lift of a rotor system (like this octo-rotor pizza deliverer), but it’s certainly big enough to carry a camera—which is a lead feature of the popular AR Drone 2.0 Parrot. In fact, thumb-sized drones are being tested for military use for squad-based forward scouting, so the demand is there…and if folks are interested in that ⅛-pound military drone, they’ll love the jellyfish’s 2 gram weight, about 1/30th of the military drone.
Of course, the jellyfish is still experimental—it’s tethered to a power source, but the lead NYU researcher, Leif Ristroph, is confident that fine-tuning the shape and flexibility of the wings would produce enough lift to hold a battery. Aside from power, however, the ingenious upright design eliminates the need for self-righting servos and sensors, and its light weight means it can be carried on a breeze, which Ristroph suggests would benefit jellyfish drones equipped with environmental sensors.
But whether it’s a mountain or mapping the countryside, we’re getting very good at surveilling territory and people with unmanned vehicles. This featherlight jellyfish drone is only the latest in a series of biolocomotion drones to derive lighter, more durable flying things that we could use to measure our world.