Researchers have built tiny microdrones capable of
tugging open a door 40 times their weight.
They took inspiration from predatory wasps, which can
drag large prey along the ground.
One researcher said the technology could be adapted for
more complex tasks such as moving debris or retrieving objects
from disaster zones.
Researchers have built microdrones, capable of tugging open a
door 40 times their weight, by studying the biology of predatory
Robotics researchers at Stanford University and École
Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland wanted to find
a way for tiny microdrones to exert “forceful tugging,” so they
turned to biomimetics — meaning they took inspiration from the
They observed that wasps are able to carry away large prey by
dragging it along the ground. They used this behaviour as a model
when creating tiny microdrones, which they named
The drones are equipped with cables and winches, and can attach
the cable to an object and then anchor themselves to the ground
before starting to spool the cable towards themselves.
Using this technology, two FlyCroTugs, each weighing 100 grams,
were able to open a door 40 times their mass.
You can watch the microdrones opening the door
Part of the FlyCroTug’s design took its cue from another animal.
Famous for clinging to walls with their sticky feet, the gecko
lizard provided inspiration for the drones’ adhesive.
“Teams of these drones could work cooperatively to perform more
complex manipulation tasks,” Stanford researcher Matt Estrada
told IEEE Spectrum, a magazine dedicated to engineering and
“We demonstrated opening a door, but this approach could be
extended to turning a ball valve, moving a piece of debris, or
retrieving an object of interest from a disaster zone.”
There are still a few hurdles to overcome before the tiny drones
could be used in the field. At the moment their battery only
lasts for five minutes. The FlyCroTug also requires a human to
pilot it, as the researchers have yet to develop any sensing or
AI systems for it.
You can read the researchers’ full paper
on building the FlyCroTug drone here.