A research project at the MIT university has enabled a student to produce a prototype version of a small unmanned drone that can land on nearby power lines in order to recharge itself when it runs short of power without returning to base.
Joseph Moore, the pHD candidate at MIT who is working on the project, said "Small and micro UAVs have enabled a number of new mission capabilities, including navigating in and around buildings and performing perch-and-stare surveillance." One of the major limitations of these devices is that the large and powerful electric motors that power them can, in some cases, drain their batteries in just minutes, if not hours, which is not particularly useful if the drone is being used in a hazardous area such as a combat zone where they are increasingly being applied. Joseph added "One of the primary limitations of these small vehicles is endurance, simply because they cannot carry sufficient power for long missions." Joseph hopes that his project can help to overcome this limitation by enabling the craft to recharge quickly and safely whilst away from its base.
The system works by utilising the magnetic fields that emanate from power lines, sensible up to 4 metres away by the drone. The drone then aims for the power line and lands perfectly on the narrow wire in exactly the same way as a bird, even tilting back and 'perching'. It attaches itself to the line by raising its nose and clamping onto the wire using small clamps fixed to the underbody of the craft where the wheels would usually be.
The new 'bird' drone developed by MIT University that can 'perch' on power lines to recharge itself.
With drones becoming increasingly complex, intelligent and powerful and being used in an increasingly large array of different situations this new development could allow developers to overcome the one major challenge remaining facing the unmanned vehicle: lack of electric power. It is worth noting, however, that the project is still under development and that it is likely to be a couple of years before the first craft to actually utilise this new technology appear.