This Drone Uses Piercing Talons to Perch—or Snatch Things

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What do you get when you slap 3D-printed raptor legs on a quadcopter? A robot that can land like a falcon to keep an eye on the forest.

are so precious. They take off and hover, taking pictures or whatever, and then land, recharge—and. If these drones were birds, they’d be prey. But the Stereotyped Nature-Inspired Aerial Grasper, or SNAG, would be their apex predator. This new quadcopter has, each loaded with four 3D-printed talons that lock around whatever makes contact with them, be it a branch to rest on or perhaps, someday, other drones flying where they’re not supposed to. That’s right, it’s a drone that might hunt drones.

Over the years, quadcopters have mastered the skies, but not so much the landing: A drone is liable to tip over and bork its rotors on a moderately uneven surface. Birds, by contrast, can wrap their feet around just about anything, getting a grip with their toe pads and talons, which get a purchase on the roughness of a branch. “Everything is a landing strip for a bird,” says David Lentink, a biologist and roboticist at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, coauthor on a new.

, slamming into other birds in midair and sinking its talons into their flesh. It’s the fastest animal on earth and an absolute menace in the sky.At 1.5 pounds, SNAG is actually about the size of one, although it’s got no wings and considerably more rotors. When one of SNAG’s legs makes contact with a branch, it starts to collapse, folding like when you bend your knee. The impact causes a tendon in the leg to lengthen, pulling wires on the underside of each toe.

One of SNAG’s current limitations is that it isn’t autonomous. To do these experiments, a pilot had to remote-control the robot. But Lentink and his colleagues are working on a way for the robot to localize a branch, calculate how to approach it, and make the landing on its own. SNAG isn’t the first quadcopter with legs. Caltech’s LEg ON Aerial Robotic DrOne , which debuted in 2019, has limbs for resting on the ground; it was designed

 

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