Small drones can fly around and observe things, but their ability to interact with the world around them has been limited. Researchers at Stanford University are changing that with the development of small flying drones called FlyCroTug that can move and pull objects around it. These drones can work in teams with a pair of the robots able to attach to a door handle and open the door.
FlyCroTugs were developed in a collaboration between Mark Cutkosky, the Fletcher Jones Chair in the School of Engineering at Stanford University, and Dario Floreano at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland. The drones are micro air vehicles that have been modified to anchor to surfaces using adhesives that were inspired by the feet of geckos and insects that Cutkosky developed in his lab in a previous project.
FlyCroTugs can pull up to 40 times their weight allowing them to carry cameras or water bottles in addition to opening doors. The researchers claim that similar vehicles are only about to lift about twice their own weight using aerodynamic forces. The flying machines are made small to allow them to move through tight spaces and to operate close to people.
The small stature makes them appropriate for search and rescue operations. The idea is that the flying robots could carry a camera to allow rescuers to plan access to a dangerous area or even remove debris on their own. FlyCroTugs were developed with inspiration from wasps. A wasp will fly to a piece of food and if it’s too heavy to fly with, the wasp will drag it along the ground.
The drones have gecko grippers using adhesives that aren’t sticky that hold by creating intermolecular forces between the adhesive and the surface they land on. The robots have 32 microspines that can latch onto rough surfaces. The flying machines also have a winch and cable and the microspines or gecko adhesive to tug.