This video explores the innovation behind Lockheed Martin’s maple seed-inspired Samarai.
Lockheed Martin’s Intelligent Robotics Laboratories has spent the last five years developing an unmanned craft to replicate the motion of maple tree seeds, whirring softly to the ground like silent one-winged helicopters.
The result is the Samarai. It has a 30cm wing span (about 12in), has the propeller mounted at the tip of the wing and can take off and land vertically from any surface. This version is designed to transition from outdoor to indoor flight and is small enough to fly through a doorway or window.
The Samarai (after samara, the name for maple seeds) also has one wing and flies with a cyclic lift motion like a helicopter. It has two moving parts and a camera and can be controlled remotely or with an app on a tablet computer.
In a manner similar to insects, hummingbirds and bats, maple seeds fly by creating a vortex over the leading edge of the wing. Reducing the pressure above the wing’s surface like this creates a mini sideways tornado and the low pressure pulls the wing up, giving it twice the lift it would normally have. Because of this action, when maple seeds swirl to the ground, they go much more slowly and land farther from the tree than they otherwise would.