(Nanowerk News) A robot nicknamed ‘Morphobot’ (M4), designed to travel across various terrains on land and in the air by changing the fittings between wheels, propellers, legs, and arms, is described in Nature Communications (“Multi-Modal Mobility Morphobot (M4) with reused appendages for increased locomotion plasticity”).
The robot — inspired by animals such as birds, meercats and seals — can perform various locomotion modes to navigate its environment, including flying, rolling, crawling, crouching, balancing and rolling.
The findings could help improve the design of robots that travel through diverse environments, such as those used in search and rescue after natural disasters, space exploration and automated package delivery.
Some animals can adapt the use of their limbs to enable them to tackle different terrains. For example, sea lions can walk on land using their flippers, meerkats can stand on their hind legs to survey their surroundings, and chukars can use their wings to walk on all fours up steep slopes. By mimicking the limbs of animals, mobile robots can be designed with multifunctional limbs to navigate complex terrain by adapting their locomotion strategies.
Inspired by animals, Alireza Ramezani and colleagues designed the M4, a robot with four legs each consisting of two joints, along with duct fans mounted at the ends of the legs. The robot weighs 6kg, is 70cm long and 35cm high and 35cm wide and high. The fans can transition between serving as legs, propeller thrusters, or wheels. The M4 is able to adapt its movement to walk on rough terrain, traverse steep slopes, roll over large obstacles, fly to higher levels, and crawl under low-ceilinged tracks.
The findings demonstrate the advantages of designing robots with multi-purpose attachments to travel over varied and challenging terrain.