Tiny insect-sized drones can help with search and rescue missions by looking for survivors in hard to reach places. But small drones don’t have a lot of space for batteries, so they run out of energy quickly. Now, a team of Harvard roboticists has developed a way for small drones to stay in the air longer. The drones take a break from active flying by perching on leaves, walls, or just about any object. To get the drones to stick, the researchers used static adhesion, the same phenomenon that causes freshly laundered socks to stick to pants.
Many applications for small drones require them to stay in the air for extended periods. Unfortunately, smaller drones run out of energy quickly. We want to keep them aloft longer without requiring too much additional energy.
Harvard’s prototype is a flying robot that weighs the same as a bee. Appropriately nicknamed “RoboBee,” it is outfitted with an electrode patch and a foam mount that absorbs the shock when it collides with the intended perch location. Static adhesion works because of the attraction between two objects with opposite charges. In this case, a small amount of energy is supplied to the RoboBee through the electrode patch. Although it does require some power, the perching uses 1,000 times less power than hovering. This drastically extends the operational life of the drone.
Presently, the prototype is tethered to a power source, but the researchers plan to integrate a battery into future iterations. They published their findings in a paper in the journal Science.