Students at Stanford’s Biomimetics and Dexterous Manipulation Laboratory have been working on designing an unmanned aircraft that can effortlessly alight on walls or ceilings. Because quadcopters can only hover in the air for tens of minutes at a time, “perching” would increase the drone’s endurance; with its motors shut off, the drone’s sensors can collect more data from a fixed vantage point, such as a disaster site or a battlefield.
To accomplish this buggy behavior, project researchers outfitted a commercial quadcopter with a gripping system centrally located between all four rotors. When the aircraft hits the wall at reasonable velocity, two sets of microspines (hardened steel spikes on a suspension) are dragged along the surface (catching onto its tiny bumps and grooves) in opposite directions. This produces a tight grip, enabling the drone to land on vertical or angled planes.
As graduate student, Hao Jiang, told IEEE Spectrum: “The opposed-grip strategy for microspines is just like a human hand grasping a bottle of water, except that while humans require some macroscopic curvature to get our fingers around both sides of an object, the microspines can go deep into the micro-features of a rough surface and latch on those tiny bumps and pits.”
For the drone to take off, Hao and his team added spines to the quadcopter’s tail, which, again, catch on the surface’s bumps and grooves as the quadcopter falls away. The aircraft can then pivot away from the surface and fly away.
“We’re excited by the recent advances in perching and are hoping to refine our approach even further, so that people can start putting sensors where they need them the most,” Jiang said.
Filed Under: M2M (machine to machine)