Aerospace / Engineering

Paper Aircraft Propelled By Inversion

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This article was originally published on April 26, 2012.

Festo, a German automation technology company that brought us the smartbird robotic seagull and bionic flying penguins, has built a flying paper aircraft unlike any we have seen and it is propelled by inversion mechanism.


Based on a geometrical band created by Swiss artist and inventor Paul Schatz, the SmartInversion is filled with helium and propels itself through the air by constantly turning itself inside out.

SmartInversion described by Festo as an “airborne geometrical band with inversion drive” is going to look familiar to those who have played with a fairly popular origami design that can be continually twisted inwards or outwards while it shows different sides of the tetrahedral it is made of. 



This giant piece of origami is composed of selectively-linked, extremely lightweight tetrahedron-shaped compartments filled with helium. Operated by electric actuators, it uses inversion kinetics to propel the contraption forwards.

It’s a six-sided articulated ring of prisms that attaches to a cube, and when it’s unleashed, it can start folding into new geometric shapes in the process. As it turns itself inside out, it moves forward. This pulsating and rhythimical property of kinematics is called inversion.


With the geometrical band Schatz discovered that the principle of kinematics, which until then had been based on rotation and translation (linear motion), could be extended by a further mode: inversion. 

The goal is to “investigate the phenomenon of inversion in greater depth”. Designers at Festo, also known for their nature-inspired robots, are now sponsoring a competition for students to figure out some practical uses for this thing.

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About Santhosh Kumar D

Aeronautical engineer, science writer, and the contributing editor of Digitash.