The team spent time observing birds in flight before creating the new drone with manoeuvrable bird-like quill feathers on the edge of its wings.
The shape of the wingspan can be changed during the flight, making the drone better able to fly at high speed, cope with strong winds, make sharp turns and move through tight spaces, the Lausanne-based institute said in a statement.
“We were inspired by birds: they can radically transform the size and shape of their wings because they have an articulated skeleton that is controlled by muscles and covered in feathers that overlap when the wings are folded,” said researcher Matteo di Luca.
Mimicking nature wasn't easy, with the scientists finding it difficult to achieve a balance between aerodynamic efficiency and the weight of the device. The wings are made of composite materials to maximize strength but keep the weight down.