Many drones have a high payload capacity—some can even carry people. But, in most cases those drones their cargo in a fixed way that a human packs before hand. That’s all well and good, but the future of autonomous drones requires a more flexible approach that gives them the ability to interact with more versatility in the world.

The robotic can gripping an object in a ditch. (📷: Seoul National University)

A team at Korea’s Seoul National University has found a pretty novel way to handle that with their origami-like robot arm. When folded up, the arm is tucked away underneath the drone’s frame. When the drone is to pick something up, the arm extends to 17.5 times its original length. Equipped with a gripper, it can carry quite a load.

A single module weighs just 40g, but can withstand up to 12kg of crushing force, and even more stretching force. Aside from being used as a robot arm, the modules have many other potential uses. The joints that make up the module are can be controlled to provide locomotion all on its own, and could even be used for structures that unfold themselves. The real breakthrough is in the locking joints that make up the module, and a lot can be done with them.

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