“Perching” Allows Drones To Extend Operational Time Dramatically
” A disaster site. A rainforest. A battlefield. These places have something in common: we have a need to understand what’s going on where established infrastructure can’t give us good data. Advances in computation, fabrication, and materials over the last half-century have resulted in small, cheap, and lightweight sensors that can provide us with these data; now the task is to find ways to deploy such sensors rapidly and effectively.
One way to do this is with small, agile aerial vehicles like quadrotors. Quadrotors are becoming affordable, ubiquitous platforms that can fly quickly over rugged terrain to collect critical data. There’s a catch, though: most small (less than 1 meter in diameter) quadrotors can only stay in the air for tens of minutes at a time, and this limited endurance makes some missions unachievable. However, if the goal is to collect data from a fixed vantage point, there is an alternative to hovering in place that might extend mission life from minutes to days or even longer: perching.”
” Perching allows a quadrotor to shut down its power-hungry motors and let its sensors get to work acquiring data over an extended period of time, tracking parameters like the stability of a building after an earthquake, the nocturnal activity of a jaguar, or enemy troop movements. While perched, the quadrotor can also happily continue to operate in weather conditions that would make flying impossible. At Stanford’s Biomimetics and Dexterous Manipulation Laboratory, we have been working on perching with the goal of making landing on a wall as easy as landing on the ground. By adding a few grams of structure and mechanism to an off-the-shelf commercial quadrotor, we are now able to perch on both vertical and inverted surfaces without using any special firmware or flying techniques. While it’s still not as foolproof as landing on a level surface, we are closer than ever to making perching accessible outside of a research environment.”