Stanford’s Perching Drones Land Vertically

Who would think that an airplane could land on the side of your house? The guys at Stanford would.

Stanford University’s Biomimetics Laboratory has been working on a small scale fixed wing aircraft that can perch on the side of a building, or just about any vertical surface. The plane’s “landing gear” consists of flexible “legs”. These legs are complete with a carbon fiber tibia and femur. The actual means by which the plane grapples onto the wall is a series of flexible steel hooks, as shown in the video above.

Not only can the plane land on vertical surfaces, it can also depart from them. Once the motors generate enough power for flight, the “talons” mechanically disengage and voila, the plane is airborne.

This plane is rather reminiscent of many of our rainforest friends such as the gliding ant, which latches onto tree trunks high above the ground below. Much like the ant, the plane is able to detect the landing surface and adjust its flight based upon these findings. The plane must pitch up at precisely the correct moment in order to latch itself to the wall. Before pitching up, the plane is traveling at around 20 miles per hour. Just before landing, the drone is able to decrease its speed to less than 7 miles per hour.

Unlike the gliding gecko with its active tail which serves to grab onto the wall in the case of a loss of grip, the drone has not been developed with any sort of safety mechanism for such an occurrence. Considering that the model is so new, these sort of improvements have not yet been made. However, the developers at Stanford plan to work on a system of saving the plane in the event that it does not grip the wall.

But what are the uses of such a device?

So far, the drone has been developed with the idea of some military applications in mind. For example, a smaller model of the plane would be able to land on a building unnoticed and gather intelligence throughout a surveillance operation. The drone is also useful for areas in which there are no stretches of flat land for the plane to make a descent.

So as our machines become more and more like animals, we ask ourselves: What will they think of next?


  1. Perching Drones Learn How to Land Vertically
  2. Stanford Biomimetics Lab


Lorena Barba posted on October 12, 2011 at 10:55 am

Hi Stephen,
I thought the toes were great. Also, the maneuver to pitch the vehicle at just the right time is impressive.
Good post!

Kevin Ma posted on October 15, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Oh wow, I never thought about planes becoming more efficient in landing. This would be so useful considering how much space air crafts require for landing.