May 20, 2019      

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) have developed an experimental robot drone that flies like a typical quadcopter, but then can land and then drive on tough terrain, squeezing into tight spaces using the same motors.

The hybrid Flying Sprawl-Tuned Autonomous Robot (FSTAR) will be introduced at this week’s International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Montreal. The robot was developed in the BGU Bio-Inspired and Medical Robotics Lab by Professor David Zarrouk, senior lecturer in BGU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and his graduate student, Nir Meiri.

David Zarrouk Ben Gurion University of the Negev flying robot article

David Zarrouk, Ph.D., Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

The researchers said FSTAR can fly over obstacles, or run underneath them. The sprawl, which adjusts from a flat configuration to 55 degrees, lets the robot transform its movement from the flying quadcopter designed to a car-like robot. The FSTAR can also adjust its width to crawl or run on flat surfaces, climb over large obstacles and up closely spaced walls, or squeeze through areas such as a tunnel, pipe, or narrow gaps. The robot can also run on the ground at speeds up to 8 feet per second (2.6 meters/sec), and its low energy consumption by using the same motors can make the robot idea for several applications that require longer work time.

FSTAR flying robot ground robot

The FSTAR drone can convert from flying mode to ground mode with the same motors.

Several possible applications

Researchers said commercial applications include package delivery (flying quickly to a target zone and then drive safely and quietly to reach a recipient’s doorstep), as well as search and rescue (flying over obstacles and crawling between or under cracks where regular drones can’t fly). Researchers also suggested the robot could be used in agriculture, maintenance, cleaning, filming, entertainment, law enforcement, and anti-terrorist situations.

“We plan to develop larger and smaller versions to expand this family of sprawling robots for different applications, as well as algorithms that will help exploit speed and cost of transport for these flying/driving robots,” said Zarrouk.

The research was supported in part by the Helmsley Charitable Trust through the Agricultural, Biological and Cognitive Robotics Initiative (ABC Robotics) and by the BGU Marcus Endowment Fund. The Marcus legacy gift, of over $480 million, was donated in 2016 to American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev by Dr. Howard and Lottie Marcus. The donation is the largest gift given to any Israeli university and is believed to be the largest gift to any Israeli institution.