Wasps. Among the most loathed creepy-crawlies on the planet, these buzzing, stinging critters have recently served as inspiration for a group of scientists, in their quest to make super-strong flying drones - and the result is very impressive.
The researchers from California's Stanford University and EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) in Switzerland, created the FlyCroTugs (flying micro tugging robots) to be able to grip objects and surfaces like an insect and interact with their environment.
Working in groups (or swarms), these tiny drones are able to lasso handles and prise open doors, as well as anchoring themselves to objects, which they can then drag along a surface.
Perhaps the most impressive skill the FlyCroTugs have in their arsenal, is the ability to drag objects up to 40 times their own weight, meaning they could prove incredibly useful in search and rescue missions, particularly where tight spaces prevent humans from gaining access to survivors.
You can see the drones in action here:
Inspired by nature
So how did the researchers make these tiny drones so strong? Well, they looked to nature for inspiration and kitted out the robotic critters with three key features - an anchor that holds on to objects, a winch to pull that anchor up, and sticky feet to keep them secure.
One of the main problems the team came up against was working out a way that the drones could move objects without having to lift them high into the air - that's when they turned to the humble wasp, as co-author of the study M. Cutkosky explained:
“Wasps fly quickly to a piece of food, and if it’s too heavy to carry off, they drag it along the ground. This observation was the genesis of our approach.”
The study's lead author D. Floreano also said that "people tend to think of drones as machines that fly and observe the world. But flying insects do many other things, such as walking, climbing, grasping and building. Social insects can even work together and combine their strength."
It's clear that if the FlyCroTugs take off in popularity, we will all have to get on board with swarms of tiny insect-like drones buzzing around our environment... it could take some getting used to.