What is a seedpod but a perfectly iterated payload delivery system?
Biomimicry, the field of making robots inspired by lifeforms, typically looks to the mobility of animals, but a project by roboticists at the Singapore University of Technology and Design instead turns to plants for borrowed inspiration. With five drone gliders held together in a single harness, the project can gently distribute a handful of small robots across an area, as gracefully as a tree releasing potential offspring into the wind.
Before getting into the specifics of this research, it’s worth noting that the Office of Naval Research and NASA have already invested in CICADA expendable gliding drone swarms as a sensor platform. With cheap electronics and transmission, gliding drones could cover a field and provide everything from meteorological data to perhaps even chemical or bioweapon detection. There are few systems like this in development, despite the fact that ONR has been looking to develop CICADA for well over a decade.
All of this is what makes “Dynamics and Control of a Collaborative and Separating Descent of Samara Autorotating Wings” so interesting. While the existing CICADA drones are mostly passive gliders, they are still steered into place via inertial navigation and control flaps in each wing, like a traditional plane or glider. The Samara Autorotating Wings, meanwhile, add just one flap to their one-winged design, which the roboticists found was enough to meaningfully control the vehicle’s gentle descent.
Together, five of the samara-drones can be linked in a single launching device, descending as one and steering together, until it is time for each pod to spin free and find a new fertile landing site.