A new micro-drone created by scientists from Stanford and EPFL in Switzerland can pull objects that weigh 40 times its own weight.
The micro-drone pulls objects using a winch, and can perform simple mechanical tasks, such as opening a door.
Many of the headlines out there right now about the FlyCroTug state that it can lift 40 times its own weight, but this is actually not true. As Sally French (a.k.a. the Drone Girl) recently pointed out the FlyCroTug can only pull 40 times its own weight.
But pulling that much weight is nothing to sneeze at. If you weigh about 200 pounds (like I do), pulling 40 pounds your weight would almost be equivalent to pulling two VW buses at the same time. Talk about heavy!
How Can the FlyCroTug Pull So Much Weight?
The key to how the FlyCroTug can pull so much weight is the use of interchangeable adhesives on the drone’s base.
Microspines on the FlyCroTug’s base allow it to dig into rough surfaces, such as carpet or dirt, in order to get traction for pulling. For smooth surfaces, like glass, ridged silicone on the base allows the drone to grab the surface using a kind of suction grip. Both of these adhesives only grip in one direction, so they can be easily removed if need be.
Using these adhesives, the FlyCroTug, which weighs only 100 grams (.22 pounds), can pull up to four kilograms (or 8 pounds). When you do the math, that’s actually about 36 times the drone’s weight, not 40—but still, that is an impressive feat.
The scientists who created the FlyCroTug say that its design was inspired by examples from nature. Small flying insects were observed pulling heavy objects in order to see how they did it, with a special focus on how wasps were able to move things around that weighed much more than they did.
Wasps quite often will want to grab large prey and move it back to their den. [But] they have to drag it along the ground, hooking on with their claws and moving it bit by bit.
– Matthew Estrada, PhD candidate at Stanford’s Biomimetics and Dexterous Manipulation Lab
This is exactly how the FlyCroTug works. The winch takes the place of the claws, and the adhesives stand in for the wasp’s ability to dig into the surface along which it pulls its prey.
What Else Can Micro-Drones Do?
Micro-drones are a great starter drone for those learning to fly, and provide an inexpensive option if you’re just getting started. Several of the drones in our free Cheap Drone guide and in the list of drones we recommend in our How to Buy a Drone guide are micros. These are great drones to learn on because of the low price point, but also because there’s less at stake with a potential crash—a tiny drone is going to do a lot less damage than a bigger one if it hits something.
Another use for small drones is in creating light shows. Most well known among these is Intel’s tiny light show drone, called the Shooting Star, which has been in the news often over the last few years.
One of the most recent notable light shows put on with these small drones from Intel was at the Winter Olympics, where Intel flew over 1,200 drones at once to put on a light show and achieve a new Guinness World Record. (This record has since been surpassed by Ehang, in a flight of 1,374 of their Egret light show drones in Xi’an, China.)
As Intel works on their light show drones, they’ve investigated the technology needed to create drone swarms, in which many drones work in concert. One way to think about the development of micro-drones that can pull heavy objects is to imagine what several—perhaps hundreds, or even thousands—of these drones could do if they were all working together.
A drone swarm could potentially move very heavy objects or create an intricate and beautiful light show, but it also has implications for the defense industry. Given their small size, such drones could avoid detection while flying separately into an area, and then create a formation that could be incredibly powerful and effective.
Breakthroughs like that made with the FlyCroTug will certainly find real world applications, although time will only tell of what kind. For now, it’s neat just to watch this tiny drone pulling open a door.
What do you think about this new, super powerful micro-drone, and micro-drones in general? How can this tech be harnessed, and what do you see it being used for in the future? Hop in and join the discussion in this thread on the UAV Coach community forum.