Drones that morph to achieve another form of mobility aren’t new. There are even toys that do that too. However, this latest developed by Caltech, in collaboration with Northeastern University is something else. Called M4, which is short for Multi-Modal Mobility Morphobot – it is a bioinspired robot that flies, rolls, walks, and more.
The unusually large wheels on the M4 double as rotors. In a matter of seconds, the wheels swing up, turning the M4 into a quad-rotor drone. That’s not it. This wheeled bot also draws inspiration from Chukar birds’ wing-assisted incline walking too.
When encountering extreme inclines, instead of flying which uses a significant amount of energy, M4 goes hybrid by using the front rotors as upward thrust while the rear wheels drive it forward. It can even crouch to get under the low-hanging ceilings and crawl like walruses to transverse uneven terrain, such as a rocky path.
Taking inspiration from meerkats, it can achieve hindlimb-assisting scouting too, and move on two, assisted by the rotors up top. All told, the M4 is capable of eight distinct types of motion.
But I think the real breakthrough is, this bot will be able to decide the mode of motion autonomously using AI to survey its surrounding conditions.
Caltech said the development of the M4 may benefit emergency response as well as use for exploring other planets in space missions.
Caltech and Northeastern University have recently published the M4 research paper on Nature.com.