Tech

Tiny drones can drag objects up to 40 times their weight

FlyCroTugsare tiny high-tech drones capable of dragging objects 40 times their weight. Engineers at Stanford and EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland) modelled these drones after spiders and wasps that can drag heavier prey but arent able to lift them off the ground.

The little drones are equipped with advanced gripping tech inspired by gecko and insect feet”. The grippy feet and powerful jaws allow them to drag objects 40 times their weight. FlyCroTugs are also quite versatile and able to interact with their environments.  These drones are able to work as a team to perform tasks such as lassoing a door handle and tugging it open. 

People tend to think of drones as machines that fly and observe the world,said co-author of the paper, EPFLs Dario Floreano in a news release. But flying insects do many other things, such as walking, climbing, grasping and building. Social insects can even work together and combine their strength. Through our research, we show that small drones are capable of anchoring themselves to surfaces around them and cooperating with fellow drones. This enables them to perform tasks typically assigned to humanoid robots or much larger machines.

Since the drones weigh merely 100 grams and can lift up to 40 times their weight, the maximum weight of the object that is carried would be 4 kilograms, or 9 pounds. 

While these drones function at a slow pace, they can be quite effective when they work as a group.

FlyCroTugs behave like regular drones by being able to take off and land, float in the air, and fly in different directions. However, there they are made up of three main components that distinguish them from other small drones: an anchor that allows them to attach to objects, a winch that pulls on the anchor to move the object, and a coating that makes the drones feet sticky to be able to grip the object and drag it.

By combining the aerodynamic forces of our vehicle and the interactive forces generated by the attachment mechanisms, we were able to come up with something that is very mobile, very strong and very small,said Stanford grad student Matthew Estrada, lead author of the paper published in Science Robotics.

The intended purpose of this project is to create versatile drones that attach their anchors to something that needs to be moved. This can be anything from a building block to a piece of trash. Once they are planted to the ground they pull the object using the winches.

The research details that the drones can pull door handles and transport cameras and water bottles in case of an emergency situation. Other models of similar vehicles can lug objects no more than twice their weight.

When you’re a small robot, the world is full of large obstacles,says Matthew Estrada, a graduate student at Stanford. Estrada worked on this project in Floreanos Laboratory of Intelligent Systems (LIS) at EPFL and is the lead author of a paper published in Science Robotics. By combining the aerodynamic forces of our vehicle and the interactive forces generated by the attachment mechanisms, we were able to come up with something that is very mobile, very strong and very small.

The researchers indicate that because of their size, the FlyCroTugs can navigate themselves through tight spaces and around people. This makes them ideal for search and rescue operations. In addition, by holding surfaces tightly when they tug an object, the high-tech robots would be able to transport pieces of debris or possibly move a camera to examine a dangerous situation.

Wasps fly quickly to a piece of food, and if its too heavy to carry off, they drag it along the ground. This observation was the genesis of our approach,said Cutkosky, a co-author of the paper.

People tend to think of drones as machines that fly and observe the world. But flying insects do many other things, such as walking, climbing, grasping and building. Social insects can even work together and combine their strength,says Floreano, the studys lead senior author.

Through our research, we show that small drones are capable of anchoring themselves to surfaces around them and cooperating with fellow drones. This enables them to perform tasks typically assigned to humanoid robots or much larger machines.