A new micro air vehicle inspired by wasps has been designed by engineers to navigate small spaces, with advanced gripping technologies that allow it to move and pull objects around.
Developed at Stanford University, FlyCroTugs are miniature wasp-inspired drones that can anchor themselves to various surfaces using adhesives.
With these attachment mechanisms, the tiny drone can pull objects up to 40 times their weight, like cameras and water bottles in for example rescue situations.
According to the university, similar technology can only lift objects of about twice its own weight.
The researchers believe the FlyCroTugs’ small size means they can navigate through small spaces effectively, making them useful for search and rescue operations, and offsite work that requires detailed visuals on hard areas for humans to reach.
The tiny robots could potentially move pieces of debris or position a camera to evaluate areas.
Nature designs and engineers much better than we can, and that is why we copy it. Wind turbines, spider-inspired soft robots that could improve surgeries and now tiny wasp-inspired drones. This concept is known as biomimicry.
Biomimicry has led to a number of manufacturing, designing and technological advancements, from aerodynamic vehicles and strategic design, to the renewable sector and surface membranes.
The FlyCroTugs were inspired by wasps because of their ability to move swiftly, their small size, how highly maneuverable they are, and also their ability to move large loads.
According to the researchers, the wasps have different attachment options depending on where they land, and this they have mimicked in the mini drone.
For smooth surfaces, the robots have gecko-inspired grippers, non-sticky adhesives that mimic a gecko’s toe structures and grip by creating forces between the adhesive and the surface.
For rough surfaces, these robots are equipped with 32 microspines, a series of fishhook-like metal spines that can individually latch onto small pits in a surface.
Small flying robots are becoming a popular technology to design, produce on scale and utilise. However this device, with its ability to fly to remote locations, pull, and anchor itself, could fall into a more specific niche.
The researchers hope to work on autonomous controls next, as well as the logistics of flying many vehicles, a swarm, simultaneously.
Case study: BioCarbon Engineering
British based company, BioCarbon Engineering, is using drone technology to help restore the environment.
The drone-based system is able to plant trees many times faster than humans and reportedly for significantly less money, and, in places humans can’t reach.
The BCE technology uses satellite and drone-collected data to reportedly determine the optimum location to plant each tree.
The planting drones then fire a biodegradable seedpod into the ground with pressurised air at each considered location at a rate of 120 seedpods per minute.