It’s not a bird or a plane: it’s an unusual flying object that propels itself by flipping inside out. Created by engineers at Festo in Esslingen, Germany, the floating band filled with helium takes on different shapes while expanding and contracting to generate thrust and move through the air.
The design is based on the inverted cube shape discovered by inventor and mathematician Paul Schatz. By dissecting a cube into three parts, two star-shaped units can be produced at either end with an invertible belt in the middle section which is the same shape as the flying band. The system reproduces the entire structure: it opens to release the band while the ends remain on the ground as a docking station.
The flying object itself is made up of six identical prisms filled with helium, held together by a carbon-fibre framework. Three motors drive the motion coordinated by a tiny onboard computer, pre-programmed to replicate the inversion sequence. Using a smartphone, a person on the ground can guide the object around a room, which will be demonstrated on Monday at a trade show in Hanover, Germany.
The firm still hasn’t come up with a specific use for inversion-driven propulsion. The mechanics of automated systems are typically based on rotational or linear motion to drive, for example, motors or grippers, but inversion is seldom used in designs. The company has now launched a competition challenging students in Germany to suggest a functional idea that could be implemented in an industrial environment.
If you enjoyed this post, you might like to watch bionic penguins designed to swim or float in the air or check out a flying robot that mimics a bird.