FlyCroTugs are micro air vehicles that the researchers have modified so the vehicles can anchor themselves to various surfaces using adhesives inspired by the feet of geckos and insects. They are developed jointly by the School of Engineering at Stanford University, and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland.
With these add-on tools, FlyCroTugs can pull objects up to 40 times their weight, like door handles in one set-up, or cameras and water bottles in a rescue site. Comparable vehicles can only lift objects about twice their own weight using aerodynamic forces.
The researchers say the FlyCroTugs' small size means they can traverse through snug spaces and fairly close to people, making them useful for search and rescue. Holding tightly to surfaces as they tug, the tiny robots could possibly move pieces of debris, or position a camera to evaluate a treacherous area.
Each FlyCroTug has a winch with a cable and either microspines or gecko adhesive in order to tug. Beyond those fixed features they are otherwise highly adjustable. The position of the grippers can vary depending on the surface where they will be landing, and the researchers can also add parts for ground-based movement, such as wheels.