Often when scientist and engineers face a problem they look to nature for answers. Drone technology is embracing this trend and studying wasps to help with some technical issues. In particular, drone designers are looking to solve the weight load dilemma by copying these fearsome creatures and their remarkable ability to lift a prey many times their size or weight.
Engineers are copying the wasp’s feet structure, which consists of a pad that allows for more surface grip on their micro air vehicles. The FlyCroTugs is the newest drone innovation, a set of micro quadrotors that can fit in the palm of your hand. While small, these UAVs use tiny hooks, similar to those found on a wasp’s foot, to anchor themselves to the surface and lift or drag items up to 40 times their relative weight.
Matthew Estrada, a Stanford roboticist explains that the hook mechanism of the microdrone is relatively straightforward. It uses anchors as leverage for heavier loads. A series of small hooks are installed on the base that release to attach an item, generating enough pulling force compared to one hook. The hooks, or barbs, mimic those found on a wasp while there is also a feature that mimics the way a gecko uses suction to grip to a surface as well. When fully established, the combining features are very strong.
The FlyCroTugs can lift an object up to 40 times their weight. For example, it can lift up a water bottle by making contact first with the surface via tiny silicone ridges that provide excellent adhesion, then using a winching mechanism to pull the object up and towards a target location. Incrementally, you can use a number of these tiny drones to work together and pull something far larger. Instead of building singular large drones to complete a task, the designers can stay small and still be able to navigate through tight spaces if need be.
This remarkable drone is just the first of the many inspired creations based on bugs. Soon Jo Chung, a Caltech roboticist, mentions that the wasp wasn’t simply an inspiration as it was part of a larger system the designers have been working on. Making full use of what’s around us or what’s on the ground can pave the way for how drones will be built in the future. Drones such as the FlyCroTugs use multi surfaces to gain greater power and become a useful tool for the pilot. When further developed, a couple of small drones can do complex actions such as opening a door.