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Swiss develop drone to explore forest canopy

2 May 2024

Inspired by cockroaches, Swiss researchers have developed a new drone which can push away obstacles and move past them. In the future, it will be used to measure biodiversity in remote areas.

Environmental monitoring in areas with dense vegetation is a major challenge for scientists, according to a press release issued by the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL). Although it is possible to take samples from individual branches, it has not yet been possible to penetrate further into the canopy.

According to the researchers, the greatest difficulty is that the branches are flexible and cause the drone to vibrate. The WSL researchers led by Emanuele Aucone, with researchers from the federal technology institute ETH Zurich and the University of Pisa, sought a solution to this problem. They found it in the body structure of cockroaches, which is streamlined and consists of low-friction material.

Successful tests

They applied this to the drone, which they presented in the journal Nature Communications. The researchers also equipped the drone with spatial intelligence throughout its body, as the WSL explained. The drone was given haptic feedback capability so it can react when it contacts its surroundings.

In initial tests, the cockroach drone was a success. It was able to push away branches with and without leaves and move past them. With a non-streamlined body or a material which causes higher friction, however, the drone got stuck in the experiment. In the next step, the researchers want to improve their drone even further. For example, it should be able to react to several obstacles at the same time.

Source: www.swissinfo.ch

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