Sherbrooke University in Quebec, Canada has developed the Multimodal Autonomous Drone (S-MAD), an animal-inspired innovative drone that is able to perch like a bird and take off from any vertical surface.

The inspiration to create the S-MAD came from animals like birds and squirrels using “microspines” to stick to the surface securely, before taking off again.

The S-MAD was introduced at the Living Machine 2017 conference where it was given the “Best Robotics Paper Award,” which praised the drone for its innovation.

It is currently the only drone in existence that uses thrust to quickly accelerate for manoeuvres and then slow down its trajectory to make a soft landing, absorbing the energy into the object it’s landing on.

“The maneuvers starts with the airplane flying at cruise speed,” Professor Alexis Desbiens said to Digital Trends. “Upon wall detection by a laser sensor, the airplane initiates a pitch-up maneuver to rapidly slow down.

“During that maneuver, the thrust is increased to maintain a small but negative vertical speed, and the control surfaces are commanded to maintain the perching attitude.”

He said this method means the drone can travel over longer distances compared to other drones before landing on a wall, which means it doesn’t need to invest so much energy in using its sensors.

“Ultimately, the microspine’s feet will touch the wall, and the integrated suspension will absorb the remaining kinetic energy,” he explained. “The impact is detected with an onboard accelerometer to turn off the propeller.”

The drone then lands on the wall securely and can stay there for a prolonged period of time without the need to use energy or recharge for its next flight. When it needs to take off again, it can once again implement thrust and will fly away smoothly from the wall.

The S-MAD drone can be employed for long-distance missions such as surveillance, energy harvesting, building inspection and reconfigurable sensor networks.