Concept: A research team from the International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad (IIIT-H) has developed a shape-shifting unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) ‘Elasticopter’. It is equipped with adjustable arms to pick parcels of various sizes and shapes. The drone has a patent-pending design, which the university claims a breakthrough in drone technology.

Nature of Disruption: The Elasticopter is a rectangular-shaped drone with four propellers and a flexible chassis that can grip and match the shape of the parcel to be lifted by expanding or contracting. Moreover, the mass of the parcels is at the center due to the flexible chassis, which results in optimal battery performance for the UAV. It has been designed to have zero prop wash interference, which can help it to avoid experiencing any turbulence in mid-flight due to the positioning of its propellers. Researchers carried out simulations to compare existing drones with the Elasticopter, where they found that the battery life and flight time are short-lived. The re-configurable feature of Elasticopter can bring economic and efficiency advantages that are crucial for conducting large-scale commercial operations. IIIT-H researchers boast that Elasticopter can ideally fit as a drone delivery in retail, movement of materials in warehouse, and other multi-payload applications.

Outlook: The overall delivery efficiency of existing drones tend to decrease as they deliver parcels of different weights. Elasticopter, with its adjustable chassis, can overcome the shortcomings of current delivery drones by adapting to size differences in parcels. According to the researchers, forcibly fitting and carrying payloads will make a drone unreliable, fragile, and even dangerous. IIIT-H researchers are currently carrying out the fabrication of the second prototype design and plan to launch a commercial model of Elasticopter by end of 2021.

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