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These Drones Shoot Darts at Trees to Collect Data – Interesting Engineering

Researchers at Imperial College London’s Aerial Robotics Lab are working on a whole new way of using drones as launching platforms for laser-aimed, sensor-equipped darts, as reported by IEEE Spectrum The point of these drones would be to set up wireless sensor networks in hazardous hard-to-reach environments where humans are not safe to venture.

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This is an entirely new approach to using drones compared to the old methods of either dropping sensors on the ground or making use of some sort of manipulator to stick sensors in specific areas. The new darts that would equip these drones are called “aerodynamically stabilized, spine-equipped sensor pods.”

They would, if all goes well, embed themselves in soft targets from up to 13.1 feet (4 meters) away with an accuracy of about 0.32 feet (10 centimeters), allowing the drone to maintain a safe distance from the surface that it’s trying to add a sensor to. One problem did arise during indoor testing, however.

At a very close range, the darts occasionally just bounced off, unable to stick properly to the surface. Luckily, from between 3.28 (1 meter) and 13.1 feet (4 meters) away, the darts stuck between 90 and 100% of the time. A pretty good result indeed!

Outdoor testing also proved successful with the researchers stating that “regular and safe operations should be carried out autonomously.” The researchers now plan to add “vision state estimation and positioning, as well as a depth sensor.” This is bound to improve the dart-shooting drones‘ efficiency.

Next up, the researchers are also hoping to test drones that can carry multiple darts. This would allow them to target trees with more chances of success. The question now becomes: how do the trees feel about all this? Will they be opposed to having sensors thrown at them? Either way, tree-targeting drones are here and they are here to stay!