A team of researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have created a drone that can move along the road as well as in the sky.
PhD student Brandon Araki, lead author on the paper, said: "The ability to both fly and drive is useful in environments with a lot of barriers, since you can fly over ground obstacles and drive under overhead obstacles.
"Normal drones can't manoeuvre on the ground at all. A drone with wheels is much more mobile while having only a slight reduction in flying time."
In the paper, Araki and his team explains how the drones are able to plan their paths and adapt according to what obstacles they face.
They write: "The multi-robot path planning problem has been extensively studied for the cases of flying and driving vehicles. However, path planning for the case of vehicles that can both fly and drive has not yet been considered. Driving robots, while stable and energy efficient, are limited to mostly flat terrain.
"Quadcopters, on the other hand, are agile and highly mobile but have low energy efficiency and limited battery life. Combining a quadcopter with a driving mechanism presents a path planning challenge by enabling the selection of paths based off of both time and energy consumption.
"In this paper, we introduce a framework for multi-robot path planning for a swarm of flying-and-driving vehicles. By putting a lightweight driving platform on a quadcopter, we create a robust vehicle with an energy efficient driving mode and an agile flight mode.
"We extend two algorithms, priority planning with Safe Interval Path Planning and a multi-commodity network flow ILP, to accommodate multimodal locomotion, and we show that these algorithms can indeed plan collision-free paths for flying-and-driving vehicles on 3D graphs. Finally, we demonstrate that our system is able to plan paths and control the motions of 8 of our vehicles in a miniature town."
And CSAIL Director Daniela Rus believes the drone could have practical applications too.
She said: "As we begin to develop planning and control algorithms for flying cars, we are encouraged by the possibility of creating robots with these capabilities at small scale. While there are obviously still big challenges to scaling up to vehicles that could actually transport humans, we are inspired by the potential of a future in which flying cars could offer us fast, traffic-free transportation."