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This folding quadcopter uses origami techniques to unfurl and fly in less than a second. Credit: Alain Herzog

A prototype drone, built by researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, uses folds inspired by origami. The tiny quadcopter drone could be released quickly in large numbers in a disaster zone to assess damage and contact survivors.

The lightweight drone folds into the shape of a trapezoid, with the arms extending and locking into place and taking off in less than 50 milliseconds once a sensor determines the arms are locked into place.

The drone is undergoing further testing and validation. Researchers hope to scale the quadcopter to a larger size and use the folding approach for fixed-wing craft as well as protective cages. The research will be displayed at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Seattle this week.

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