Last week, researchers of the University of Sherbrooke presented the Sherbrook Multimodal Autonomous Drone (S-MAD) at the Living Machine 2017 conference at Stanford University, where it won the “Best Robotics Paper Award.” According to NewAtlas, the Createk Design Lab and Sherbrooke researchers looked to birds and their last-minute perching instincts and abilities and infused those into their unmanned aerial vehicle.
Not only that, but the company went with a fixed-wing approach—again, hewing closer to a bird’s anatomy as opposed to the typical rotor-based drone design. Makes sense, as the Living Machine conference is all about the symbiotic relationship between nature and machinery, rewarding those companies most creative and effective in their designs.
The Sherbrooke researchers apparently tested thousands of aerodynamic model simulations in order to perfect the design’s flight and perching capabilities, before actually succeeding in developing a capable fixed-wing drone with the proper thrust and pitch required to pull the aforementioned behavior off correctly. Now, we’ve reported on drones that attempt to both hover and cruise, combining the behaviors of airplanes and regular drones into one UAV.
That effort was highly impressive, and it seems like the S-MAD is yet another addition to the list of drones that look toward other machines (or in this case, animals) to become something more than just another hovering UAV. Let’s take a look at the S-MAD in action, shall we?
As you can see here, the motor brakes after detecting an impact, successfully perching the device against the flat surface. This is easily achieved thanks to the S-MAD’s “wall detection range sensor.” According to NewAtlas, the S-MAD flies toward a wall at 7 to 9 meters per second, after which a laser-based sensor detects the surface and slows the device down to 1 to 3 meters per second. This is when it begins shifting from horizontal to vertical state, upping its thrust to remain tilted upward.
Once the device hits the wall, the suspension helps in avoiding any damage. Microfiber feet of sorts hold on to the wall, and the propeller turns off. S-MAD’s researchers claim that this will work on a wide array of surfaces, like bricks, concrete, stucco, etc. Once you’re ready to take off again, you can—the S-MAD can remain perched against the surface until it’s time to fly away.
Pretty impressive stuff, and something that could be used for a wide array of reasons. Motherboard says that aerial monitoring after an earthquake or assisting building inspections could be primary uses for the S-MAD, and those scenarios seem to make perfect sense.