Just What We Need—Drones with Grappling Claws

Fan-freakin'-tastic. It wasn't enough that drones are already watching our every move and capable of raining down missile-locked death strikes. No, we had to give them the ability to swoop and snag items like a goddamn Golden Eagle taking a baby. Everybody duck.

Justin Thomas and his team at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia are responsible for this autonomous "advancement." The team drew inspiration from the hunting mechanics of aerial birds of prey to develop a grappling arm and manipulator that mimic an eagles talons and which can be attached to a quad-copter micro-UAV (MAV). The arm features a two-prong, dual-joint manipulator 3D printed from ABS plastic that snatches objects at relative speeds up to 1 m/s and holds them securely in a spherical recess.

According the University of Pennsylvania study, whose results will be formally announced in August at the International Design Engineering Technical Conferences & Computers and Information in Engineering Conference, enabling a MAV to quickly dart in and retrieve items has more than a few benefits:

Acquiring, transporting and deploying payloads while maintaining a significant velocity are important since they would save MAVs time and energy by minimizing required flight time. For example, high-speed grasping could be used in rescue operations where speed and time are critical, and in operations requiring a MAV to quickly swoop down and pickup an object of interest. Moreover, the dynamic grasping functionality could also be extended to achieve perching capabilities, which could be used to quickly escape high winds, achieve immediate silence in stealth operations, and improve mission duration by reducing hover time. Particular requirements for grasping and perching are planning of feasible dynamic trajectories and precise control.

You hear that everybody? Perching capability! What's more, the team is hard at work improving the system by developing an on-board navigation camera for self-guided flight and an upgraded arm for "more agile grasping and perching strategies." Great, now NYC rooftops will be overrun by both pigeons and drones.

[University of Pennsylvania via New Scientist]