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Small robotic vehicles that mimic the feats of flying insects could be used for search-and-rescue in disaster situations, surveillance, communications, and other applications.

Researchers at the EPFL Laboratory in Lausanne, Switzerland have now made a perching mechanism that lets a flying robot soar toward a surface, securely perch on it and–most importantly–detach to fly away again, much like an insect. This could let a robot conserve energy, and turn a tree or wall into a scouting position, for example.

Spring-loaded arms swing forward as the autonomous flyer approaches a surface. Tiny needles at the end of the two arms dig into the surface. A remote-controlled motor swings back the arms when the robot needs to detach and fly off.

Researcher Mirko Kovac, who says the fliers are a step toward creating insect-like robots that can act in a swarm, demos his work in the video below.

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