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Perching and takeoff of a robotic insect on overhangs using switchable electrostatic adhesion

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Science  20 May 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6288, pp. 978-982
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf1092

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Making small robots stick

Aerial views offer the chance to observe a wide range of terrain at once, but they come at the cost of needing to stay aloft. Graule et al. found that electrostatic forces could keep their insect-sized flying robot stuck to the underside of a range of surfaces (see the Perspective by Kovac). They mounted an electrostatically charged pad to the top of their robot, which could then reversibly stick to existing elevated perches—including a leaf—using less power than would be needed for sustained flight.

Science, this issue p. 978; see also p. 895

Abstract

For aerial robots, maintaining a high vantage point for an extended time is crucial in many applications. However, available on-board power and mechanical fatigue constrain their flight time, especially for smaller, battery-powered aircraft. Perching on elevated structures is a biologically inspired approach to overcome these limitations. Previous perching robots have required specific material properties for the landing sites, such as surface asperities for spines, or ferromagnetism. We describe a switchable electroadhesive that enables controlled perching and detachment on nearly any material while requiring approximately three orders of magnitude less power than required to sustain flight. These electroadhesives are designed, characterized, and used to demonstrate a flying robotic insect able to robustly perch on a wide range of materials, including glass, wood, and a natural leaf.

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