This Insect-Like Drone Can Perch Anywhere

A tiny drone referred to as a micro aerial vehicle (MAV) by researchers can fly, hover, and even perch on surfaces, according to a publication in the journal Science. The researchers behind the device say it has numerous applications, including creating communications networks, detecting hazardous biological or chemical agents and monitoring disaster areas, also known in simpler terms as spying.

Researchers found that electrostatic forces could keep their insect-sized flying robot stuck to the underside of a range of surfaces. They mounted an electrostatically charged pad to the top of their robot, which could then reversibly stick to existing elevated perches—including a leaf—using less power than would be needed for sustained flight.

This is not a new concept since there are other similar insect-inspired MAVs, but the problem with them is their lack of staying power, due to limited battery life, and the inability of such devices to “stay aloft for a prolonged time.” This problem increases the smaller the drones get since the power supply mechanism would be constrained by limited space.

The researchers propose that integrating the ability to perch into these aerial robots would allow them to conserve energy, while they continue their mission. The advantage would be the ability of these MAVs to expand their mission time.

Another advantage to perching would be the ability of the flying devices to attach themselves underneath structures, such as leaves, which would grant them and unobstructed vision of the terrain below, as well as protecting them from adverse weather conditions.

Some of the previously proposed approaches to achieving this perching feature include:

  • A passive biomimetic gripper
  • Directional dry adhesives in a spring-lever system
  • Magnets with servo-actuated release
  • An articulated nondirectional dry adhesive that is repositioned when perching is desired
  • Microspines or needles driven into a soft target by a preloaded snapping mechanism

“There’s a lot of benefit of using these types of robots for search and rescue or hazardous environment exploration,” says Robert Wood, one of the study authors, in a press video. “They’re agile, they can fit into small nooks and crannies, you can have a lot of them operating simultaneously to have greater coverage. But the drawback is they’re very inefficient at flying.”