SCIENCE

People-Friendly Drone Nets $1 Million Prize

Feb 08, 2015 at 2:08 PM ET

Out of hundreds of applicants and 39 semifinalists, judges today selected and announced the winning entry for the first-ever UAE Drones for Good Award as buildup to the 2015 Government Summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The prize of $1 million and the contest itself honor companies and programs that are developing drones that can be used for “the good of people.” The aims of the competition stand in contrast to popular consensus about drone technology, which tends to view the flying robots as either weapons, intrusive surveillance tools or toys.

The winner is the Swiss firm Flyability, which created Gimball, a simple, nimble drone whose applications in rescue situations seem to hold great promise.

Gimball, dubbed the “world’s first collision-proof drone” by its creators, is essentially a small flying robot surrounded by a geodesic cage. Instead of burdening the flyer with the hardware needed for crash avoidance, Gimball allows its cage to bump into objects, using the impact to sense data that will help it navigate around the obstacle. This strategy makes the impressively small drone light enough to enter cramped or cluttered spaces—such as a rescue site—with relative ease. Indeed, Gimball would actually use anything it bumped into to find its way to any survivors. Being highly reactive to any collisions, the drone can share space with humans quite safely, provided they don’t mind a small, harmless nudge from the flyer now and again.

The video below explains and demonstrates Gimball’s mechanism: