This drone uses nail piercings to land or grab things

Quadcopters these days are so valuable. They take off and hang out, take pictures or whatever, and then land, reload – and blah. If these drones were birds, they would be prey. But the stereotypical nature-inspired air catcher, or SNAG, would be their ultimate predator. This new quadcopter has legs, each of which is loaded with four 3D printed nails that clasp around everything that comes in contact with them, be it a branch to rest on, or maybe one day other drones flying where they shouldn’t. That’s right, this is a drone that can hunt drones.

Over the years, quadcopters have mastered the sky, but not so much the landing: the drone tends to overturn and crash its rotors on a moderately uneven surface. Birds, in contrast, can wrap their legs around everything, clinging to the pads of their toes and claws, which receive a purchase on the roughness of a branch. “It’s all a bird landing runway,” said David Lentink, a biologist and robotist at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, co-author of a new paper describing the robot in the magazine. Scientific work. “For us, it’s really inspiring: the whole idea that if you just design different chariots, you might be able to land anywhere.”

Courtesy of Will Roderick

SNAG is specially inspired by the peregrine falcon, a predator among predators. This raptor bombs at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour, hitting other birds in the air and driving its claws into their flesh. It is the fastest animal on earth and an absolute threat in the sky.

Courtesy of Will Roderick

At 1.5 pounds, the SNAG is actually the size of one, although it has no wings and significantly more rotors. When one of SNAG’s legs comes in contact with a branch, it begins to bend, bending as when you bend your knee. The blow causes the tendon in the leg to lengthen, pulling wires from the underside of each toe. The more the leg contracts, the more tension builds up in the tendon until the quick release mechanism triggers a spring to pull the tendon even tighter, dramatically increasing the grip strength. Both the nails and the toe pads, which are made of deformable rubber covered with grip tape, help the SNAG hold on tight.

Courtesy of Will Roderick

In general, the robot’s legs have converted the energy of the impact with the branch into gripping energy in just 50 milliseconds. “There is a robot impulse“It’s not like a helicopter landing,” Lentink said. “It’s a dynamic landing, a controlled collision.” After landing, an accelerometer in the right leg of the SNAG checks the balance of the robot, and the motors in the thighs adjust its posture if necessary. To release the grip, another motor reduces the tension in the tendon. Because there are elastic bands at the top of the toes, the numbers automatically bend back into the open position once this tension is released, allowing the SNAG to fly away.

Courtesy of Will Roderick

In this video, you can see how the robot’s legs work to catch prey, the way a stray falcon can attack other birds from above. As objects come in contact with the feet, the energy of this impact is converted into energy that the robot uses to tighten its nails.

Courtesy of Will Roderick

And here’s taking off in a fun cadence. SNAG relies on its rotors to produce lift, like a hummingbird relying on swinging its wings quickly to take off. (A real wandering falcon would actually clap and push with your powerful legs to get off the ground.)

One of the current limitations of SNAG is that it is not autonomous. To do these experiments, the pilot had to remotely control the robot. But Lentink and his colleagues are working on a way for the robot to locate a branch, figure out how to approach it and make the landing itself.

SNAG is not the first quadcopter with legs. Caltech’s LEg ON Aerial Robotic DrOne (also known as Leonardo), which debuted in 2019, has limbs to rest on the ground; it is designed to explore Mars better. Both SNAG and Leonardo are looking for the same thing: energy efficiency. Keeping a drone in an area monitoring area quickly drains the battery. (NASA has already sent a helicopter to Mars, but it has no legs, so the flight time is very short.)

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