Small Drone Is Designed for Heavy Loads
posted on November 01, 2018 |
When it comes to tight spaces, micro air vehicles (MAVs) are becoming a popular tool to navigate into nooks and crannies. But, what if along with entering a small space, there is also a need to move objects? In a recently published paper, a team of researchers unveiled its small flying robots, which are capable of moving and lifting objects 40 times their weight.
Inspired by nature—specifically insects—previous work by researchers at Stanford University’s Biomimetics and Dexterous Manipulation Lab resulted in gecko-inspired adhesives and microspines. This earlier work, along with help from counterparts in École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, made the team’s newest creation possible.
Researchers have enabled small flying robots to grab and haul heavy loads. (Image courtesy of Kurt Hickman, Stanford University.)
FlyCroTug—named for its ability to fly, crouch and tug—is a modified MAV with attachments that enable the drone to perch and move objects. To anchor themselves, the robots are equipped with non-sticky adhesives that work like a gecko’s toe structure and can hold on due to intermolecular forces between a smooth surface and the adhesive. On rougher surfaces, its 32 microspines work like a hooked spine to latch onto pits in a surface. The researchers fitted their FlyCroTug robots with a small winch, giving these drones the ability to pull 40 times their weight.
“When you’re a small robot, the world is full of large obstacles,” said Matthew Estrada, Stanford graduate student and the paper’s lead author. “Combining the aerodynamic forces of our aerial vehicle along with interaction forces that we generate with the attachment mechanisms resulted in something that was very mobile, very forceful and micro as well.”
Successful testing proved these small drones were up to an obstacle challenge. With two FlyCroTugs working together, the robots’ attachments allowed them to open the handle of a closed door. Additional testing involved one drone flying alongside a collapsing structure with a camera to capture what was happening inside.
While further research is needed, the team believes the robots have the potential to be used in rescue scenarios. Their small size and ability to carry heavy loads could allow them to move debris or deliver supplies to disaster sites that are too dangerous for people to traverse. The team’s next step will be to develop some form of autonomous control and logistics to fly several FlyCroTugs at once.
Interested in more nature-inspired robotics? Check out Biorobotics Takes a Giant Stride with Cyborg Cockroaches and DelFly Nimble Mimics the Complex Flying Abilities of Fruit Flies.