Israeli researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev have created the first-ever experimental robot drone to fly like a typical quad-copter and which can also drive on tough terrain and squeeze into tight spaces using the same motors.

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The hybrid FSTAR (flying sprawl-tuned autonomous robot) was introduced Monday at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation 2019 in Montreal, Canada. It was developed in BGU’s Bio-Inspired and Medical Robotics Lab by Prof. David Zarrouk, senior lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and head of the Bio-Inspired and Medical Robotics Lab, together with his graduate student, Nir Meiri.

FSTAR can fly over obstacles or run underneath them. The sprawl, which adjusts from a flat configuration to 55 degrees, allows the robot to transform its movement from a flying quad-copter to a car-like robot. It also adjusts its width to crawl or run on flat surfaces, climb over large obstacles and up closely-spaced walls, or squeeze through a tunnel, pipe or narrow gaps.

It can run on the ground at a speed of up to eight feet per second (2.6 m/s). That, combined with low energy consumption using the same motors, makes FSTAR ideal for a broad range of applications that may require longer work time.

Possible commercial uses are package deliveries since it can quickly fly to a target zone and then drive using its wheels safely and quietly to reach the recipient’s doorstep. FSTAR can also be used for search and rescue applications as it can fly over various obstacles and crawl between or underneath cracks where a regular drone cannot fly. The robot can also be used in agriculture, maintenance, cleaning, filming, and entertainment, as well as law enforcement and anti-terrorist applications.

“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,” Dr. Zarrouk says.

This 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.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.