When it comes to new technologies, inspiration frequently comes from the animal kingdom. In the past, we’ve covered robots that run like ostriches, wind turbines modeled on humpback whales, and durable solar cells inspired by the honeycomb pattern of insect eyes. Now there’s a new one to add to the mix: web-shooting drones patterned after spiders. If Peter Parker was ever going to buy and use a drone, this would be the one for him!
Called SpiderMAV, this specular drone — which comes equipped with its own Spider-Man style webshooters — was created by the Aerial Robotics Laboratory of the U.K.’s Imperial College London. The drone is a modified DJI Matrice 100 drone with an additional magnetic perching module mounted on top, and a stabilizing module attached to its underside. When SpiderMAV finds a magnetic surface that it wants to perch under, it uses its compressed gas webshooter to fire out a line of polystyrene thread, which serves as an anchor. It then reels in the thread until it’s taut, and can then enjoy some motor-free hangtime while secured to the surface.
“When facing design and control challenges in robotics we look at efficient solutions that are used in nature,” Dr. Mirko Kovac, who led the project, told Digital Trends. “Animals often face similar challenges as robots when moving in outdoor terrains, and bio-inspired approaches can provide value in terms of energy efficiency and robustness in complex environments.”
While Imperial College London isn’t the only research institute to be working on ways of letting drones “perch” to get some much-needed downtime, the use of spider webs certainly makes this among the more memorable solutions to the problem. One of the big advantages of the approach is that not only does it allow the robot to perch, but also to do so in a way that gives it some added stability. “We have looked at how spiders use their webs to stabilize in unknown environments,” Kovac continued. “By extracting the key principles of web building and web usage, [our SpiderMAV drone] can use string-based systems to perch for energy-efficient and wind-robust station holding.”
At present, the drone is still a work in progress, meaning that there has not been serious thought put into how SpiderMAV will disengage from the webs once they’re fired, or whether it might be possible to adjust its anchoring system so as to attach to other, non-magnetic surfaces. Still, this is very promising work that reminds us that there’s still plenty more innovation to be done in the drone world.
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