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Image credit: University of Sherbrooke

Fixed-wing drone lands on vertical surfaces like a bug

Fixed-wing UAVs have just gotten more useful.
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University of Sherbrooke

Scientists have borrowed a few tricks from Mother Nature in order to create a drone capable of landing flush against a wall. The Multimodal Autonomous Drone (S-MAD) looks like a small airplane and flies like a glider, but on approaching a flat surface is able to change configuration to make a smooth, ricochet-free vertical landing -- much like a graceful bird or a large, unpleasant insect, depending on how this unsettling robotic behavior makes you feel.

Created by researchers at Canada's University of Sherbrooke, the S-MAD uses microspines to attach itself to rough surfaces. These are commonly used on quadrotor drones, where landing is generally less of a problem. Fixed-wing landing presents more challenges, even before you throw perching into the mix, as the device needs to have slowed almost to a stop to prevent it from bouncing off the surface it's trying to land on. And if the device is moving too slowly, it'll stall. The researchers observed birds' take-off and landing manoeuvres and installed similar mechanisms, and now the device will land successfully on vertical surfaces 100 percent of the time.

The S-MAD is a proof of concept creation, but the team is now working on further features, such as sensors to help with wall contact and thrust-assisted repositioning. It's hoped that with a bit of refinement, the device could become to go-to drone for data gathering in logistically-challenging situations, such as inspecting a building or monitoring an area after an earthquake.

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