Flying can be simple. While modern helicopters are a complex hodge-podge of parts, the basics are, well, basic: a spinning rotor that generates lift and provides forward momentum, another contra-rotating blade to keep the vehicle level, and a compartment for people to travel inside. Without the need to worry about human passengers, flying machines can be much simpler. In fact, as a team of researchers at ETH Zurich recently proved, a flying machine can be built with just one moving part.
Let's take another look, this time in slow-motion:
Tossed in the air like a frisbee, the aptly named “monospinner” can stabilize and spin in roughly one place. From the researchers:
The monospinner cannot hover like a standard multicopter. However, an unconventional equilibrium is found by analyzing the vehicle's dynamics. For a certain constant angular speed and propeller force, the monospinner is able to remain substantially in one position. Feedback control keeps the vehicle near this equilibrium.
Spinning in place is neat. That prevents it from being a photography tool, but the simplicity of form is interesting enough that someone could find another use for the design. Covered in flashing lights, a monospinner could be a good party trick. Covered in really bright flashing lights, maybe a monospinner becomes an alternative to flash-bang grenades.
Watch it twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom below: