Rolling Robot Transforms Into A Helicopter On Command, Decepticon-Style

Not sure whether to use a cylindrical crawler or a buzzing helicopter for your remote sensing needs? This robot makes the choice easier, incorporating both abilities. In the video below, you can watch as it rolls along, then tips up vertically to take off like a helicopter.

This robot was developed at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Distributed Robotics, where designers led by Nikolaos Papanikolopoulos built two separate transmissions for flight and rolling. IEEE Spectrum reports in further detail on the rolling/flying bot, which was presented at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Shanghai.

Ground robots can perform autonomous sentry duties more efficiently than an airborne bot, and they’re somewhat easier and cheaper to design. But flying robots are more agile and can navigate around obstacles–or even climb stairs. An ideal robot would be able to do both, and this one fits the bill.

But it was neither easy nor cheap to pull this off, IEEE reports. It was too hard to build a motor system capable of slow-speed forward ground motion as well as the high-speed rotor action required for vertical flight, so the designers had to make two. Just getting the robot to stand up was a challenge — the mechanism that folds the rotors down cost $20,000 to make, according to IEEE.

Future designs would ideally be cheaper and less complicated, able to quietly roll around before unfurling into a sinister Sikorsky MH-53 Pave Low helicopter.