Researchers at the École Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) have introduced a drone to deliver packages. Essentially, this drone—which is built with a collapsable protective cage on its exterior which can avoid obstacles and to navigate routes that larger drones can’t.

As far as the drones are concerned, humans are a barrier, so a protective cage was designed at protecting them from us. The irritating thing about these protective cages has always been that they are bulky.

Dario Floreano, the lab’s director says, “With this new concept, the drone becomes the package”. When the package is folded, it becomes very small, and you can transport and store it. When the drone-as-package is unfolded around the parcel, it gives protection for the people so that they do not get cut, and it also ensures safety for the parcel.

EPFL’s Foldable Drone

It can be folded down to minimize its volume by 92 percent. The cage comprises of a multicopter with four propellers with enough power to carry a package weighing up to 500 grams over a distance of 2 kilometers.

The team turned to origami techniques, as origami arrangements display high strength-to-weight ratios and are able to shrink them by folding. The cage comprises of repeated segments outlined by carbon-fiber struts and connected with flexible, 3D-printed joints. As the team writes in their paper: “Each segment is the result of a tessellation of congruent isosceles triangles where the edges are struts and the vertices are flexible joints.”

A Drone for last-centimeter delivery

As an additional protection aspect, the cage contains a safety locking mechanism which prevents the propellers when it’s in the open position.

The goal of the team is to work on scaling this origami-like cargo drone for huge payloads, with the prototype envisioned with payload capacity of 2 kilograms over 15 kilometers, which they guess would provide 86 percent of all Amazon deliveries.

The researchers also suggest to explore various shapes for the cage to hold several kinds of packages, as well as with the extra features like parachutes, extra sensors, and cameras, connected to smartphone apps which will aid in remote control and verification of recipient identity.

Watch a video of a drone for last-centimeter delivery: