A robot capable of assessing its surroundings and reconfiguring its body to move within that environment has been developed by researchers from the California Institute of Technology.

Autonomously selecting from eight distinct types of motion, the Multi-Modal Mobility Morphobot (M4) can reportedly roll on four wheels, transform its wheels into rotors and fly, stand on two wheels to peer over large objects, use its wheels like feet to walk, use two rotors to help it roll up steep slopes, tumble and more.

Source: California Institute of TechnologySource: California Institute of Technology

Thanks to a combination of the robot's flexibility of motion and artificial intelligence (AI), the robot can autonomously select the type of locomotion that is most effective according to the terrain ahead of it.

Making such transformation possible is the ability of M4 to repurpose its appendages from wheels to legs or thrusters. For instance, if M4 needs to stand up on two wheels, two of its four wheels will fold up and inset propellors will spin upwards, thereby balancing the robot. In the event that M4 needs to fly, the four wheels will fold up as the propellors lift the robot upward. Meanwhile, the robot’s wheel assembly joints enable the M4 to walk.

Such a robot, according to its developers, could potentially be used to transport injured people to a hospital or to explore other planets.

The M4 is detailed in the article "Multi-Modal Mobility Morphobot (M4), A Platform to Inspect Appendage Repurposing for Locomotion Plasticity Enhancement," which appears in the journal Nature Communications.

For more on the M4, watch the accompanying video that appears courtesy of California Institute of Technology.

To contact the author of this article, email mdonlon@globalspec.com