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This Drone is the ‘Simplest Controllable Flying Machine in Existence’

The pursuit of elegance through simplicity can lead to extraordinary scientific and technological breakthroughs, which include everything from profound physical equations to user-friendly personal computers. Or, in the case of the Monospinner drone, the pursuit of elegance through simplicity can lead to a single-prop copter that struggles to maintain altitude, as it whirls around endlessly like an airborne dog chasing after its own tail.

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Although its flight pattern is a bit…unorthodox (even da Vinci’s wildest supposedly sky-bound machines look stable compared to this thing), the Monospinner featured in the video above is a notable — or at the very least entertaining — step in the evolution of drones because it only has one moving part: its rotating propeller. This makes it, according to its builders, the “simplest controllable flying machine in existence.”

The super simple machine is the brainchild of Weixuan Zhang, Mark W. Mueller and Raffaello D’Andrea, three researchers who collaborated via the Flying Machine Arena project (or FMA), which is “a portable space devoted to autonomous flight.” FMA has evolved over decades as a controlled environment in which engineers can test and hone their creations, and it’s probably provided the backdrop for many other drone demos you’ve seen in the past.

The Monospinner is able to fly, despite the fact that it looks like it really doesn’t want to, because of constant, automatic adjustments to its rotor speed. This constant adjustment  provides the Monospinner with enough thrust to stay aloft, while at the same time not so much that it flips over (as the video’s narrator notes, “the torque created by the propeller thrust would cause it [the Monospinner] to flip over” if it went unchecked). It also only takes flight if launched like a frisbee.

As for real-world applications, none are given by the Monospinner’s creators, at least in their breakdown of this particular video, but the team does want to go even simpler than the Monospinner. That’s right, a flying machine with no moving parts. Because who doesn’t love a good paper airplane?

What do you think about the Monospinner and its quirky flight pattern? Are you happy to see engineers working on something that’s simple, but seemingly without any applications? Let us know in the comments section below!

Images: Weixuan Zhang

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