Drones are ubiquitous: they carry into the air important equipment such as remote sensing technology, heat sensors, multi-spectral instruments, and more. Drones are commonly used for surveillance, mineral exploration, disaster relief, and construction.

Despite the widespread use of drones, their battery life is often brief and cut short after a few hours. Engineers have yet to determine a wireless way to charge drones while they're still in the air to save enough battery power.

However, there could be a way to preserve the durability of batteries, at least for a few hours more. If drones could perch on the side of buildings using bird-like claws and grippers, researchers believe the battery life of this tiny, unmanned aerial vehicle could last longer than usual.

Adding Bird-like Claws To Drones Could Save More Battery Power

A study published in the journal Science Robotics demonstrated how adding bird-like claws to drones can be a significant modification that could save more battery life. Scientists from Yale University created a design that's inspired by talons, which allows the drone to have modularized landing gears.

Kaiyu Hang, lead researcher of the report, explained that the bird-like claws are designed to extend and save battery life by allowing the drone to perch on an object and rest.

"Birds usually fly somewhere and they stay at the top of the roof or some tree branches. Then they look for their prey or they just stay there without flapping their wings all the time and they can still observe what is happening around them," Hang said.

The claw-like modification that Hang and his colleagues designed allows a drone to grab to a branch or a pole, turn off its engines, and continue to monitor while resting.

Hang and his team also found a way to make the drone land even when there isn't a good place to land. In fact, the modularized landing gear lets the drone lean against a ledge and stay there using two of its four rotors.

The Drawbacks Of Adding Claw-Like Landing Gripper To Drones

The modular claws could even be effectively used in extreme weather conditions. Mark Cutkosky, a professor from Stanford University, said that if the drone is perched underneath a bridge, the drone can wait out a storm or any bad weather that could make it impossible to fly.

Still, there are some caveats to the design. For instance, the claw-like landing gear adds more weight to the drone, and it takes more energy to keep the drone flying. Cutkosky said there had to be a trade-off when it came to improving the durability of the batteries in order to pay for the added weight.

Cutkosky wonders whether there would be an effective strategy for drones to discover good places to perch on. In the meantime, the Yale research team is working on integrating the drone's computer with an onboard camera to find out if drones can soon decide on their own where to settle down and rest.

The Yale study is also not the first of its kind. In 2013, roboticists from University of Pennsylvania added a talon-like gripper for drones, drawing inspiration from the claws of eagles. The team added a 3D-printed three-fingered claw to a motorized leg.

Photo: Rick Cameron | Flickr

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