There is great potential in using both drones and ground-based robots for situations like disaster response, but generally these platforms either fly or creep along the ground. The flying sprawl-tuned autonomous robot (Flying STAR) does both through a mechanism based on the elementary observation that both rotors and wheels spin.
The hybrid was created using high-powered, lightweight drone components. The result is a robot that can easily fly when it needs to, then land softly and by tilting the rotor arms downwards, direct that same motive force into four wheels.
Not only can the F-STAR fly and crawl, it can roll at up to 8 feet per second using comparatively little energy while being able to leap over obstacles, scale stairs, or simply ascend and fly to a new location.
In contrast to a drone that simply uses two bottom wheels, the hybrid robot is mechanically more efficient because the same motor drives the rotors and wheels at the same time — though when rolling, the RPMs are considerably lower. The rotating arms also give the robot a flexible stance, large wheelbase, and high clearance that make it much more capable on rough terrain.
The researchers plan to develop larger and smaller versions to expand the family of sprawling robots for different applications, as well as algorithms that will help exploit speed and cost of transport for the flying/driving robots. Future applications include rescue teams, commercial operations, and the military.