Swiss company Flyability is travelling home from Dubai $1 million richer after winning the “Drones for Good” international competition, on February 7.
Gimball is described as the first “collision-tolerant drone,” utilizing a rotating spherical outer cage that means it can be used safely in close proximity with people. Designed to enter hostile environments — such as burning buildings and radioactive sites — Gimball maps its surroundings and can roll across ceilings and floors, navigating restricted areas, and transmit RGB and infrared images back to disaster relief services.
Unlike other rescue robots, where colliding with obstacles could spell the end of an expedition, Gimball is able to bounce back without losing its bearings or damaging its in-built camera.
The design was inspired by the sight of a fly bouncing against a window in an effort to escape.
“We were wondering why insects were so capable of going inside any building — yet had limited senses such as eyesight,” explained co-creator Adrien Briod. “One capability that was completely overlooked was their ability to collide into surfaces. For insects this isn’t a big deal — but it is for robots.”
A mesh cage surrounding the motor and camera moves independently from the rest of the machine, meaning it can crash without losing stability. The design also makes it safer to use near people.
“Some drones are really very dangerous for humans, and humans have a tendency to like drones,” said co-founder Patrick Thevoz, 29. People who aren’t used to working with a drone “tend to go right up to it.”