FlyCroTug microdrones 40x weight pull Stanford

Sorry people, FlyCroTug micro-drones are NOT lifting 40x their own weight

Before you get too jazzed about the FlyCroTug headlines you may have seen going around this week in the drone world, don’t get THAT excited. “Micro-drones with winches can open doors and lift 40 times their own weight” says The Verge. “The flying robot that carries objects 40 times its weight,” says the Economic Times.

For those of you who read this and fear that the robots will wage an epic takeover, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Drones aren’t as strong as the headlines might lead you to believe.

A new type of flying, micro, tugging robot developed by scientists from Stanford University and EPFL in Switzerland, called a FlyCroTug, was announced this week. And the media took it a little bit too far.

Sorry folks, but a tiny drone still cannot lift and carry objects 40 times its weight.

As anyone who has ever tried to push a couch against a wall vs. completely pick it up can tell you,  there’s a pretty stark difference between lifting and pushing/pulling. A quick physics lesson: energy is expended if the object is moved against a force. If you were to pick up a couch, gravity would pull down on it, causing you to expend much more energy, vs. just pushing or pulling that couch across the floor, during which the only force acting against its movement is friction (and negligible air resistance).

Goofy and terribly misleading headlines, the FlyCroTug micro-drone is actually pretty neat.

The FlyCroTug is outfitted with gripping technologies that give it the ability to move and pull on objects around it. Two FlyCroTugs can jointly lasso a door handle and heave the door open.

The FlyCroTugs can pull objects up to 40 times their weight. Similar vehicles can only lift objects about twice their own weight using aerodynamic forces. They key word here? Pull, not lift.

For smooth surfaces, the robots have gecko grippers, non-sticky adhesives that mimic a gecko’s intricate toe structures and hold on by creating intermolecular forces between the adhesive and the surface. For rough surfaces, these robots are equipped with 32 microspines, a series of fishhook-like metal spines that can individually latch onto small pits in a surface. Each FlyCroTug has a winch with a cable and either microspines or gecko adhesive in order to tug.  The grippers can be moved based on the use case.

What’s the use case here? Scientists say the FlyCroTugs’ small size means they can navigate through snug spaces and fairly close to people, making them useful for search and rescue. Holding tightly to surfaces as they tug, the tiny robots could potentially move pieces of debris or position a camera to evaluate a treacherous area.

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