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A Euro-American research team has developed a micro-drone that can open doors to new possibilities – literally, not figuratively.

The flying robot – dubbed FlyCroTug – is outfitted with a gripping apparatus. Two of the diminutive drones work together to pull objects – for example — lassoing a door handle and pushing it open.

The UAVs can anchor to surfaces using sticky parts inspired by the feet of geckos and insects.

By using grappling tech, FlyCroTugs can pull objects up to 40 times their weight. In addition to door handles, the drones can grip cameras or water bottles, which could come in handy during a rescue operation.

The robotics platform is the brainchild of Mark Cutkosky, the Fletcher Jones Chair in the School of Engineering at Stanford University, and Dario Floreano of the École Polytechnique Fédérale in Switzerland.

“When you’re a small robot, the world is full of large obstacles,” said Matthew Estrada, a graduate student at Stanford and lead author of a paper on FlyCroTugs, published Oct. 25 in Science Robotics.

“Combining the aerodynamic forces of our aerial vehicle along with interaction forces that we generate with the attachment mechanisms resulted in something that was very mobile, very forceful and micro as well.”

Due to its minute size, the FlyCroTug can navigate through narrow crevices and cracks. The research team says the drones could even move some debris in a disaster area.

Cutkosky points out the robots were inspired by observing insects such as wasps or bees.

“Wasps can fly rapidly to a piece of food, and then if the thing’s too heavy to take off with, they drag it along the ground. So, this was sort of the beginning inspiration for the approach we took,” he said.

“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, building – and social insects can even cooperate to multiply forces,” said Floreano, who was senior author on the paper.

“With this work, we show that small drones capable of anchoring to the environment and collaborating with fellow drones can perform tasks typically assigned to humanoid robots or much larger machines.”

Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.

Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content.

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