With the legs developed by Stanford researchers, drones can land on a tree branch and balance on it like birds. Although drones are already used in a wide range of areas, their practicality is severely limited by their ability to land only on flat surfaces. However, researchers at Stanford University in the US have recently come up with a solution that could make drones much more versatile in one fell swoop: artificial claws allow drones to land safely not only on uneven surfaces such as tree branches, but also to easily grab objects thrown at them,” New Atlas reports.
The researchers used the results of their previous research to develop the claws, in which they used sensors to study the movements of sparrow parrots, and found that, whatever surface they landed on, the parrots always performed the same manoeuvre before landing. As drones are much larger than parrots, the researchers finally chose the peregrine falcon’s claws, which they 3D-printed and used motors and dampers to reproduce the movement of the muscles and tendons.
When the drone lands, the legs absorb the impact energy and passively convert it into gripping force, allowing the device to grab objects in just 20 milliseconds. After landing, the ankles are fixed and an accelerometer on the right claw indicates that the drone has landed. The researchers have also developed an algorithm that can balance the drone so it can land on a tree branch without falling.
The Stereotyped Nature-inspired Aerial Grasper performed very well in tests, according to a study published Wednesday in the scientific journal Science, as the claw-equipped drone was able to land on tree branches of all sizes, shapes and surfaces, whether the branch was dry or wet. The claws were also very confident at catching objects thrown at them, including tennis balls and bean bags.
According to the university, the technology could be used in a wide range of applications: claw drones could be useful for rescue missions and monitoring forest fires, among other things, but the claws themselves could also be mounted on other types of robot. However, William Roderick, who is leading the research, says the development could also benefit researchers in other ways, not only in terms of robotics, but also in terms of the detailed modelling that can be done to learn about the animal world using artificial legs.