Engineers at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) have created Piccolissimo: a single-motor drone that is the size of a coin.
Despite the tiny size the real party trick is the way it manages flight. Inside the prototype there are only two moving parts: the propeller and the body itself.
The body, complete with embedded stabilisers, act as a second set of propellers which generate more lift.
To manoeuvre while in the air the motor is not placed directly in the centre of the build, but rather at an offset. This, as you’d imagine, actually makes Piccolissimo prone to flipping over, which is exactly the point. The force created by the offset is harnessed using a gyroscope and a process of turning the motor on and off in pulses. In this way the little machine will pitch and turn instead of rolling over completely and crashing.
There are currently two versions of Piccolissimo: a larger version which can do the aforementioned pitch and turn manoeuvres and a smaller one which cannot.
The larger version is 4.5 grams with a diameter of 39 millimetres, and the smaller one is 2 grams and 28 millimetres in diameter. To put those numbers into perspective: a South African five rand coin is 26 millimetres in diameter and 9.5 grams. A United States quarter is 24.26 millimetres in diameter and weighs 5.67 grams.
And despite its small size, the Piccolissimo can apparently carry a weight of about one gram. That doesn’t sound like a lot but it is apparently enough for a camera or atmospheric sensor. The camera option is interesting as the spinning body design would be perfect for capturing 360 degree shots.
Penn describes this creation as the “world’s smallest self-powered controllable flying vehicle” which is probably a more apt description versus calling it a simple drone. On the other hand, it was created using a motor taken from Cheerson CX-STARS quadrotor housed in a 3D printed body, so it’s close enough.
The name “Piccolissimo” is Italian for “tiniest” or “minimal” which is great, until you learn that the engineer who came up with the idea is a graduate student at Penn named Matt Piccoli. Very clever, Matt, putting your name on stuff on the sly.