Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have unveiled the world’s smallest self-powered drone, which weighs only 2.5 grams and is the size of a quarter. The tiny drone is called Piccolissimo, after the Italian word for pocket-sized. The drone comes in two versions: the quarter-sized one, and a slightly larger and heavier one that is steerable.

The drone can fly and steer because both the body and the propeller work together. A tiny motor spins the body while the propeller spins the opposite direction. The propeller is mounted off-center, which is how the drone steers. By precisely changing the speed of the propeller at different points during the rotation of the body, the drone can control the direction of its movement. It’s a trick that’s been put to use in larger drones before, and is no less clever now that it’s smaller.

The drone is built using a 3D-printed frame, a lithium polymer battery, a motor, and a simple control mechanism. These simple parts ensure that the drone is very cheap and easy to build.

“One of the interesting things about the design is that much of the complexity is in the design of the body which is 3D printed,” said researcher Mark Yim to Digital Trends. “Since the cost of 3D-printed parts are based on the volume of plastic in the part, and independent of complexity, the flyer is very low-cost.”

The researchers hope that their drones could be used in swarms for applications like search and rescue, where hundreds of small Piccolissimos could be used for the same cost as a single large quadcopter.

Image Credit: UPenn/Scott Spitzer
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