Drones are taking to the sky in greater numbers, but what happens when they crash? Injuries to people on the ground and damage to property seems inevitable.
A new 3D-printed viscoelastic material from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could reduce the damage inflicted by crashing drones.
Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence lab created the material by programming the exact levels of stiffness and elasticity needed in each part of the printed product. Rubber and plastic are combined with non-curing liquids for a material that is strong enough for the drone to maintain its structure but springy enough to dull the impact should something go haywire.
Manufacturers have, until now, been limited to using mass-produced materials for drones.
“Giving manufacturers the ability to create safe, shock-absorbing components themselves would mean they’d also have the ability to print and test materials – which could lead to safer products,” said an MIT statement.
The Federal Aviation Administration has strict regulations for drones, causing Amazon to take its drone-delivery test program overseas to England. Those regulations address what might happen if a drone malfunctions and falls out of the sky, and what might happen if that drone accidentally flies into a person.
“MIT’s invention could potentially help solve that,” said the MIT statement. “Components that can be programmed throughout could give manufacturers the freedom to inexpensively create, say, high-tech customized bumpers, or safer, rubbery propellers.”
The material doesn’t just protect human flesh. It also protects the hardware components of the drones themselves.
During lab tests, two cubes were dropped onto their corners. A standard rubber one bounced around. The 3D-printed one bounced once and landed on its side, thanks to a metallic spring and the viscoelastic material.
“Being able to control what happens upon impact could not only limit the damaged caused by a falling drone, but also prevent it from smashing to smithereens,” said MIT.
Filed Under: Rapid prototyping