Researchers Matthew Estrada, David L. Christensen, Mark R. Cutkosky from Stanford University and Stefano Mintchev and Dario Floreano from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne have discovered a way to coordinate the movements of tiny drones that work together perform tasks with items at least 40 times their size, such as a heavy door. These “FlyCroTugs” use the same principle behind that of hive insects who innately work together to accomplish feats greater than themselves.
Here, we describe FlyCroTugs, a class of robots that adds to the mobility of MAVs the capability of forceful tugging up to 40 times their mass while adhering to a surface. This class of MAVs, which finds inspiration in the prey transportation strategy of wasps, exploits controllable adhesion or microspines to firmly adhere to the ground and then uses a winch to pull heavy objects. The combination of flight and adhesion for tugging creates a class of 100-gram multimodal MAVs that can rapidly traverse cluttered three-dimensional terrain and exert forces that affect human-scale environments.