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Scientists Create Micro Wasp Drones Capable of Opening Doors

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【Summary】Inspired by the natural capabilities of wasps and geckos, the micro drones are equipped with adhesives, a winch and cable for pulling large objects.

Michael Cheng    Nov 01, 2018 6:00 AM PT
Scientists Create Micro Wasp Drones Capable of Opening Doors
author: Michael Cheng   

These days, drones are being modified to take on extreme environments and complex tasks. At Stanford University (in collaboration with École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland), researchers have created micro quadcopters capable of moving objects up to 40 times their weight, such as large doors.

Called FlyCroTugs (Flying MiCro Tugging), the unmanned aircrafts utilize robust gripping mechanisms to latch onto surfaces. Read on to learn more about the drone and its useful applications in rescue operations, security and industrial sites.

FlyCroTug Drone

Inspired by the natural capabilities of wasps and geckos, the drones are equipped with adhesives, a winch and cable for pulling large objects. The units also use 32 metallic micro-spines for gripping on rough materials. When moving objects, the drone first attaches itself onto a nearby surface. Afterwards, it hooks onto the object and pulls toward the desired direction.

Scientists can modify various components on the drone for optimized performance, depending on the task. For instance, the grippers can be moved to cater to the location of the landing area. It is also possible to add wheels on the drone to facilitate ground-based movement.

"Wasps can fly rapidly to a piece of food, and then if the thing's too heavy to take off with, they drag it along the ground. So this was sort of the beginning inspiration for the approach we took," said Mark Cutkosky from the School of Engineering at Stanford, in a statement.

A major drawback in the drone's design is battery life. At the moment, the units can only sustain five minutes of flight. Adding more power cells to the quadcopter would compromise its capabilities and size. For complex tasks, individuals could utilize several FlyCroTug drones to speed up pulling or lifting tasks.

However, for accessing remote locations, which requires extended flight, more powerful batteries are required.  Operators could opt to tether the micro drones to a power supply, but such solutions are also risky, as jerky movements on the line could disrupt movement during flight.

Industrial and Emergency Applications

The drones can be used to support a myriad of industries, ranging from industrial and security to emergency services. First responders, such as fire fighters and ambulances, could deploy the units to open doors in burning buildings. Moreover, the tiny quadcopters may reduce direct contact with criminals during operations involving forceful entries. In both examples, the drones replace humans from dangerous and high-risk tasks.

"We demonstrated opening a door, but this approach could be extended to turning a ball valve, moving a piece of debris, or retrieving an object of interest from a disaster zone," explained Matt Estrada, a researcher from Stanford.

Interestingly, the compact nature of the units allows them to access extremely tight spaces. Such features are ideal for rescue operations in caves and after earthquakes. Drone operators could deploy a group of FlyCroTugs, which could fit through small openings and cracks on the ground or wall. The units may clear out loose boulders, debris and other obstructions before rescue teams enter the disaster zone.  

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