DARPA's Maple Seed-Inspired Drone Takes Flight (Video)

maple seed wreath photo

Photo by ctd 2005 via Flickr CC

The idea of designing a drone after the maple seed has been around for awhile. But finally, researchers have made it happen. DARPA's maple seed-inspired drone has taken flight, and can be remote controlled to fly around the room, even do vertical take-offs, while spinning just like a maple seed. The trick to the maple seed is that it's one (or two) "wings" help it to whirl in the air as it falls, giving the breeze a chance to pick it up and carry it away from the tree. That kind of whirling action is what DARPA was after for a new drone that could be used for collecting military intelligence.

Navy Times reports, "Lockheed Martin's Intelligent Robotics Laboratories, based in Cherry Hill, N.J., has spent the last five years developing an unmanned craft to replicate the motion. The device, dubbed the Samarai, is scheduled to make its public debut next week at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference in Washington, D.C."

Thankfully, we've all been given a preview of the 1-foot-long drone that has just two moving parts and a camera:

According to Navy Times, troops could carry these seed-like drones in their packs and launch them like boomerangs, controlling them with remotes or an app. This way, they can see what's around a corner before moving forward, or use them to collect images inside buildings since they're able to hover and move around easily in tight spaces.

This kind of design is just one way biomimicry is being used to improve flying devices. Butterfly-like robots have been developed and even the complex way hummingbirds fly is inspiration for drones.

Biomimicry is a rich area of study for designers looking to create better robotics. Everything, right down to snails, offers inspiration for improved ways to make machines move.

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