Researchers at Stanford are trying to give drones another of insects’ useful traits: the ability to land on vertical walls, and even upside down. They’ve already gotten pretty far on a system that lets drones do that. As one of the researchers writes at IEEE Spectrum, the setup has two parts: a rigid tail, and a pair of “microspines.” The tail allows the drone to correctly position itself while landing; the two microspines, which are really just small textured pads, are then dragged along the wall, where they catch on microscopic grooves in the surface.
An earlier version of the tech was shown this time last year, but a new video demonstrates the researchers’ progress. They have it set up on a modified commercial drone and are able to use it outdoors, seemingly with ease. “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,” writes Morgan Pope, a researcher involved with the project. The video compares what they’re doing to “mosquitos and spiders,” saying that the drone’s microspines latch onto walls in much the same way those insects do.
As for why you’d want to land a drone on a wall: it looks cool, for one; but more importantly, it could allow a drone to rest for hours while recording video or capturing data with onboard sensors and then fly back down to safety. Drones are already revolutionizing how we capture video, but right now that’s usually measured in minutes at a time. By letting drones stick to many surfaces, it opens up far more opportunities for researchers and filmmakers. There are, of course, some concerning downsides to drones potentially being able to hide almost anywhere. For now, at least, they’re still stuck in and around the lab.