Scientists from EPFL have created a drone with a feathered, shape-shifting wingspan that allows it to fly fast, turn sharply and endure strong winds. Birds are able to fly efficiently because they can adjust the shape of their wings, down to individual feathers. This has been studied by aerospace engineers with a view to developing shapeshifting wings for larger, low-energy aircraft. It also might have something to offer for drones as well.
The scientists set out to build a drone that could adjust the configuration of its wings to fly between obstacles, make sharp turns and also stand up in strong winds. The mechanism that allows to retract artificial feathers is fixed to outer wings, that are made from composite materials designed to maximize strength and keep weight to a minimum. The fake feathers are made from fiberglass and a thin layer of nylon.
The drone can fly aggressively with wings fully extended, when faced with strong winds, it can retract wings to become more streamlined and by changing the wingspan it can make turns without the need for an ailerons. You can see it in the air and hear from the researchers in the video below.