German robotics firm Festo has made a name for itself designing drones modelled on animals like its robo-butterflies, 3D-printed BionicAnts and Seagull-inspired SmartBird. Now, the company has designed an indoor flying bubble-like drone that can autonomously manoeuvre and pick up objects using a gripper inspired by a chameleon's tongue.
The unique drone called FreeMotionHandling consists of a helium-filled balloon powered by eight propellers on a carbon ring around the middle. Measuring 54in in diameter, the drone can move through the air in any direction and rotate 180 degrees. The ring includes circuit boards and a Wi-Fi router as well.
Inspired by a chameleon's tongue, the gripper on the drone is known as the FlexShapeGripper tool, made of an ultra-thin film. The sleeve-like gripper is filled with helium and can pick up an item by slipping down perfectly over an item, absorbing it into its hollow body and using compression to hold tight. Once ensconced in the drone's cavity, the drone can then fly to its destination and gently deliver the item by oozing it back out.
The grabbing technology used in the FreeMotionHandling drone was also used in Festo's previous FlexShapeGripper device as well.
The drone doesn't require a pilot, instead using an indoor GPS to get around. It also has two on-board cameras to assist the drone in detecting objects and delivery locations.
"An important element for future production facilities are human assistance systems that can adjust flexibly to a wide range of production scenarios," Festo's brochure reads. "In this respect, the technology is able to react at all times to interventions by humans and other variable parameters."
Although Festo hasn't announced plans to commercialise the bot yet, it does envision the system being used in factory or production lines to boost efficiency and productivity.
Festo isn't the first company to experiment with using drones to safely deliver goods. In New Zealand, Domino's Pizza is testing a ground delivery robot capable of bringing hot pizzas to a customer's doorstep without the need for a delivery driver. In London, Starship Technologies has begun testing out their "ground drones" to deliver parcels. The Japanese government drone manufacturer Autonomous Control System Laboratory and e-commerce company Rakuten have began testing drones for home deliveries in Japan and have so far delivered a bottle of wine in a basket and medical supplies.