Our concept of drones is that they land—sometimes with grace, sometimes not—on a more or less flat surface when their mission is over. But researchers at Yale are working on a drone that can land and “perch” like a bat to save energy during portions of its mission.
Where some studies have tested drones that can partially land on a stable surface, allowing some of the electric motors to be switched off, this latest study equips drones with scissor-like landing gear that can grasp a pole or even a tree branch to allow the aircraft to hang like a bat. In this configuration, the propulsion motors can be turned off completely. With the drone presumably parked above the ground, it’s closer to returning on station with a little more battery capacity in the tanks.
Designed with a variety of landing-gear configurations, the “bat drones” would be set up for the expected mission terrain. In fact, the idea of giving drones a rest during missions to conserve energy isn’t new. As battery technology slowly advances along with the inevitable increases in motor and controller efficiency, there’s still a sizable gap between performance and endurance. This study hopes to increase drones’ endurance so that any given battery size can carry more payload, or a given capacity can fly farther and longer.