What do you do when your drone runs out of power? At this point in the quadcopter game, flying drones need to return to base to recharge or risk falling out of the sky. However, a new method for “tapping” power lines has been discussed, which would allow the drones to sit on and steal power from overhead lines and then keep flying when they’ve recharged.
But how do you land a drone on a powerline? By perching, just like the wee birdies do.
Quadrotors can easily land on power lines, provided they stay in the correct position but how do you perch with fixed wing aircraft? By sensing the magnetic field of the power line and performing a few quick maneuvers, MIT researchers have created light, throwable robots that will always land where they’re supposed to. The resulting trick – which simplifies the way birds land on power lines – is surprisingly cute.
Outlined in a paper by Joseph Moore, Rick Cory, and Russ Tedrake, the system uses a few basic sensors and motors to initiate the stall that forces the nose up and moves a hook into proper position. Instead of complex flaring maneuvers, however, the system requires little equipment and can be retrofitted onto light drones. The drones can perch, and then when they’re full, start their motors again and fly away.
I doubt this means we’ll see a bunch of electricity-stealing robo-crows any time soon, but the concept is quite compelling for defensive drones that might need to rest for a while in between missions or for unmanned flights over long distances. I, for one, welcome our flying, perching, robotic overlords.