We’re going to mistake the drones of the future for annoying flying insects

 

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Harvard’s robotic flying bee has been in development for well over a decade now. And despite its incredibly simple design, over the past few years, its creators have improved Robobee’s capabilities, adding abilities such as the ability to hover and even steer itself down a pre-determined flight path. It’s too tiny to carry its own batteries and has been long reliant on a connected power cable. But last August, for the first time ever, Robobee made its first flight without a wire tether.

It wasn’t necessarily the most spectacular flight, however. Instead of soaring across the laboratory, buzzing past researcher’s ears, Robobee lifted off for a mere second under its own power before falling out of the sky—saved from a crash landing by an emergency kevlar safety wire. To achieve this feat, RoboBee received a couple of key hardware upgrades last year, including the addition of two extra wings, bringing the total to four, which contributed to a 38 percent boost in lifting power. It also got the smallest set of solar cells you can buy, weighing in at just 10 milligrams.

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Micro-drones with winches can open doors and lift 40 times their own weight

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Micro-drones are nifty little things: small, fast, and agile. But they’re not the strongest machines around, and are barely capable of exerting more force than a small mouse head-butting your ankle. Until now. Scientists from Stanford University and EPFL in Switzerland have created a micro-drone with a built-in winch that’s capable of lifting up to 40 times its own weight and performing simple mechanical tasks like opening a door.

The key to the design is the use of interchangeable adhesives on the drone’s base: microspines for digging into rough materials like stucco, carpet, or rubble, and ridged silicone (inspired by the morphology of gecko feet) for grabbing onto glass. Both microspines and silicone ridges only cling to surfaces in one direction, meaning they can be easily detached. With these in place, the micro-drones can pull well above their 100-gram weight, exerting 40 newtons of force or enough to lift four kilograms (about eight pounds).

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