Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev said they have developed a “groundbreaking” hybrid robot that can both fly and drive, as well as squeeze into tight spaces, all while using the same motor.
The square, four-wheeled, winged machine can fly up stairs, roll over rough terrain, flatten itself or raise its body, and quickly move from driving mode into flying mode. It can adjust its width to crawl or run on flat surfaces, climb over large obstacles and up walls, or squeeze through a tunnel, pipe or narrow gap. The robot can move on the ground at a speed of up to eight feet per second (2.6 m/s) and uses low energy to operate.
The FSTAR (flying sprawl-tuned autonomous robot) could be used for a variety of commercial purposes, the university said in a statement, including package deliveries, since it can fly to a target zone and then drive to the recipient’s doorstep.
FSTAR can also be used for search and rescue applications because it can reach places where a regular drone cannot fly. Other areas of use include agriculture, maintenance, cleaning, filming, and entertainment, as well as law enforcement and anti-terrorist applications, the statement said.
The hybrid will be introduced at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation 2019 in Montreal, Canada, on Monday.
It was developed in BGU’s Bio-Inspired and Medical Robotics Lab by Prof. David Zarrouk, senior lecturer in BGU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and head of the Bio-Inspired and Medical Robotics Lab, together with his graduate student, Nir Meiri.
“We plan to develop larger and smaller versions to expand this family of sprawling robots for different applications, as well as algorithms that will help exploit speed and cost of transport for these flying/driving robots,” Zarrouk said in the statement.
Zarrouk’s lab has developed other robots, including a tiny ingestible robot that may one day have the capacity to slither its way through the small intestine, and a robotic arm for agricultural or space purposes.
The hybrid-robot research was supported in part by the Helmsley Charitable Trust through the Agricultural, Biological and Cognitive Robotics Initiative (ABC Robotics) and by the BGU Marcus Endowment Fund, the statement said.