[video] How will Multi-Modal Mobility Morphobot change the future of transportation?

A tech university builds a transformer-like robot with AI brain that can drive, fly, swim, and walk.

Imagine a sleek, futuristic creation that defies conventional limitations, sporting four large wheels, each equipped with its own cutting-edge propeller. But wait, there's more: these wheels aren't just for rolling; they double as mighty legs or thrusters, giving the Multi-Modal Mobility Morphobot (M4) the ability to transcend the ordinary.

This transformer-like robot - which can walk, drive, fly, crawl, and swim – was designed and built at the Center for Autonomous Systems and Technologies (CAST) of the California Institute of Technology (CalTech).

Inspiration for M4 came from nature's finest, with the genius creators drawing from the grace and adaptability of creatures like Chukars, Meerkats, and Sea Lions. The Chukars' uphill prowess with the aid of their wings provided the idea of using the propellers to tackle inclines with ease. Meerkats' versatile locomotion, from walking on all fours to rising up for better vision, inspired M4's adaptability. Meanwhile, the agility of Sea Lions, effortlessly moving both in water and on land with their flippers, inspired the idea of seamless transitions between modes.

How does M4 perform in action?

On a flat surface, it rolls like a slick, rectangular car, wheels humming with energy.

If an obstacle blocks its path, M4 doesn't flinch; instead, its two rear wheels fold up, while the remaining wheels transform into propellers, whirring to maintain balance. Now standing on its rear wheels, it gazes over the obstacle.

And there’s more. If the terrain turns treacherous, M4 defies gravity: all four wheels fold up, and the propellers take over. Like a drone, it soars effortlessly over obstacles standing in its way.

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The robot’s creators used a less artistic description in a paper they published in the journal Nature Communications in June, noting in a press release that the device is controlled by an artificial intelligence brain, which takes decisions which locomotion mode is appropriate.

M4’s AI-powered brain accurately perceives its surroundings and analyzes the environment in a flash. It then decides on the most effective form of motion to navigate any situation seamlessly, morphing into whatever shape is required to go on moving.

The applications of this astonishing AI robot are limitless. As a means of transportation, it can sneak anywhere. Now imagine M4 doing a search and rescue job on water or at disaster-stricken sites, locating and retrieving people or objects. Or serving as an intelligent family assistant in charge with a variety of tasks.

How about deploying M4 as an autonomous rover/helicopter on Mars? Hey, Elon Musk or NASA, hear CalTech out!