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).