'

'Inspector Gadget' arm makes drones more useful (and a little scary)

One of the big stumbling blocks for commercial drones is loading and unloading payload. This lightweight origami arm offers a novel solution.

From infrastructure inspection to medicine delivery in remote areas, drones are now starting to do useful work in various industries.

But the task of picking up and putting down payloads still typically requires human intervention, which is slow and potentially dangerous for workers.

A team of researchers at Seoul National University's Soft Robotics Research Center has a novel solution: An extendable origami arm that looks like something out of 'Inspector Gadget'.

inspector-gadg.jpg

Led by Professor Cho Kyu-Jin at the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering, the origami-inspired robotic arm is self-folding, lightweight, and also highly-rigid.

It operates around the principle of variable stiffness. Sequential locker mechanisms allow the arm to extend rigidly at variable lengths. A single wire actuates the mechanism, making the system fairly simple to incorporate into existing drone platforms while keeping it lightweight.

When a motor pulls the wire, the locker mechanisms are unlocked and folded up sequentially. When the arm is not in use, it folds flat.

"Soft robots have great advantages in their flexible movement, but they have a limitation in that they cannot support high load without deformation," explains Professor Cho. "This robotic arm uses the variable stiffness technology which [incorporates the] merits of both rigid and soft robots. With this property, the robotic arm can be folded flat when not in use and can be stiff when necessary."

The arm is made of a composite material of ripstop fabric and PET plastic, making it robust enough to handle significant loads.

No word when the "Go Gadget, Go!" Amazon Echo integration is coming.