Whether it's used to deliver medical supplies to remote areas in Rwanda or deliver the goods from late night impulse buying on Amazon, drone technology is here to stay. While the applications of large drones seem to be limitless, sensitive search and rescue missions require a smaller drone that can more easily maneuver around a disaster zone. One Harvard lab may have found a solution to the biggest challenges of small drones by using static electricity to allow the drone to mimic similar-sized insects.
"Many applications for small drones require them to stay in the air for extended periods," explained Moritz Graule, first author of the paper published in Science. "Unfortunately, smaller drones run out of energy quickly. We want to keep them aloft longer without requiring too much additional energy."
By harnessing the power of static electricity, a small platform on the top of the robot is able to perch on surfaces to take a break from hovering. This is so efficient, the drone is able to spend 1000 times less energy perching.
The team is able to accomplish this by supplying a very small amount of energy to the platform, keeping it negatively charged. As it comes into contact with another surface, the negative charge pulls electrons away, creating a positive charge on the surface. The opposite charges are attracted to one another, allowing the robot to stick.
The current robot, which the lab has dubbed RoboBee, is tethered to its power supply. There is still much work to be done in creating a cordless robot capable of being practical in a search and rescue mission. Still, the simple beauty of using static electricity as a means of preserving energy is an incredible development.
Check out the robot in action here: