A closed door is just one of many obstacles that poses no barrier to a new type of flying, micro, tugging robot called a FlyCroTug. Outfitted with advanced gripping technologies and the ability to move and pull on objects around it, two FlyCroTugs can jointly lasso the door handle and heave the door open.
Developed in the labs of Mark Cutkosky, the Fletcher Jones Chair in the School of Engineering at Stanford University, and Dario Floreano at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, FlyCroTugs are micro air vehicles that the researchers have modified so the vehicles can anchor themselves to various surfaces using adhesives inspired by the feet of geckos and insects, previously developed in Cutkosky’s lab.
With these attachment mechanisms, FlyCroTugs can pull objects up to 40 times their weight, like door handles in one scenario, or cameras and water bottles in a rescue situation. Similar vehicles can only lift objects about twice their own weight using aerodynamic forces.
“When you’re a small robot, the world is full of large obstacles,” said Matthew Estrada, a graduate student at Stanford and lead author of a paper on FlyCroTugs, published Oct. 25 in Science Robotics. “Combining the aerodynamic forces of our aerial vehicle along with interaction forces that we generate with the attachment mechanisms resulted in something that was very mobile, very forceful and micro as well.”
The researchers say the FlyCroTugs’ small size means they can navigate through snug spaces and fairly close to people, making them useful for search and rescue. Holding tightly to surfaces as they tug, the tiny robots could potentially move pieces of debris or position a camera to evaluate a treacherous area.
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