UK based scientists have developed a drone that shoots 'webs' like Spider-Man

What this drone really wants to be is Spider-Man – and it is, almost. Hovering in the air it has four tubes from which it shoots out web-like anchors.

Getting these anchors to stick is still a work in progress, as can be seen here, but the technology which allows the robot to tether itself to a solid surface is virtually there.

The researchers aim to do deploy the SpiderbotMAV, as it’s sometimes called, into extreme environments.

The lab’s director Dr Mirko Kovac says: “One core application area is in deep mines where we can imagine having drones operating in mines doing mapping tasks, sampling tasks and also looking at where the precious metals are, that is to inform decisions on where to mine, how to mine and how to do that more effectively, more cost effectively, more sustainable as well. So currently mining is done a lot with humans in the loops and humans are really four kilometres under ground in enormous danger, there are explosions there are collapsing structures, there is heat, so hot walls there is a lot of pressure and robotics can really improve that and that is one application that in particular we focus on here at the robotics lab.”

According to Kovac now the mechatronic solutions have been found, the team can turn their attention to solving things like the materials used for perching the anchors:

He says:”The Spidermav uses a new type of mechatronics solutions and new control systems to shoot the strings and attach (them) to the environment.

Now the string material is one very important aspect of that and for now we use silk material to do that. Now in the longer run, or as a future vision we’ll look also at new advanced new materials that could potentially also be deployed by the robot in different ways to do this perching and attach where we want, to different adhesion methods and different ways how we can stick to the surfaces.”

The models for these robots come from nature. So, for example, you can see a swarm of insect-like robots weave a web above a tunnel on an oil rig. One of the latest is the AquaMAV which shares characteristics with flying fish.

Kovac explains: “The approach we took for this aquatic micro air vehicle or AquaMAV as we call it is to look at diving birds, or flying fish and extract the key design principals that they use, so for example we built this impulsive aquatic take off method that uses compressed gas, that ejects a water jet from the body of the drone and allows it to then take off from under water into the air in a dynamic way to then open the wings to fly and then return back to the station.”

The AquaMAV uses a plunge diving technique to reenter the water, folding wings for diving efficiency, while it’s hydrophobic surfaces ensure it is light and dry when being propelled from the water.

Kovac believes the public love affair with drone technology and robotics will continue: “The brave new world of robots becoming part of our society, our lives, already happens. We already are surrounded by a lot of robotic technology, we might not call it robot, and as we go forward it will disappear even more and become the fabric of life. So I think drones have a role to play and they will become part of our society of our cities, of our mines, of our offshore platforms.”

In the meantime work on the spiderbot continues – long into the night.

Produced by Jasper Pickering.

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