A groundbreaking robot named M4 (Multi-Modal Mobility Morphobot) has emerged as a real-life Transformer, showcasing an extraordinary range of motion capabilities. Developed by a team led by Professor Mory Gharib at Caltech’s Center for Autonomous Systems and Technologies (CAST), M4 can autonomously adapt its body to achieve eight distinct types of motion, enabling it to navigate various terrains with unparalleled versatility.
The brainchild of Professor Gharib and Assistant Professor Alireza Ramezani from Northeastern University, M4 opens up a world of possibilities in fields ranging from medical transportation to space exploration. The research team, including Eric Sihite, Reza Nemovi, and Arash Kalantari, aimed to design a robot that showcases exceptional mobility and diverse locomotion modes, resulting in the successful realization of the M4 project.
The robot’s remarkable flexibility is further enhanced by artificial intelligence, allowing it to select the most effective mode of locomotion based on the terrain it encounters. For instance, M4 can roll on four wheels, stand on two wheels like a meerkat to overcome obstacles, walk using wheel-like feet, transform its wheels into rotors for flight, and even tackle steep slopes using two rotors. The seamless transition between these modes showcases the power of M4’s adaptability.
By employing artificial intelligence and reconfigurable appendages, M4 can repurpose its components to optimize its locomotion capabilities. When faced with an unfamiliar environment, M4 can analyze the situation and adjust its form accordingly. For example, it can roll on wheels for energy efficiency but switch to a bipedal stance to gain a better view of the surroundings. If confronted with an impassable obstacle, M4 can transform its wheels into rotors and effortlessly fly over the obstruction before returning to its rolling mode.
Professor Gharib emphasizes that robots equipped with multi-modal components and aided by artificial intelligence are key to navigating unknown environments successfully. One of M4’s notable features is its ability to repurpose its appendages as wheels, legs, or thrusters. When standing on two wheels, M4’s folding wheels provide balance, and when flying, all four wheels fold up, allowing the propellers to lift the robot off the ground.
The design of M4 draws inspiration from nature, taking cues from animals such as chukar birds and sea lions. By studying how these creatures utilize their appendages for various locomotion strategies, the research team incorporated similar concepts into M4’s design. Although nature has previously inspired biologists with examples of appendage repurposing, engineering is now exploring these concepts in greater depth.
Equipped with autonomous capabilities, M4 can navigate complex environments and make informed decisions about the most suitable mode of locomotion. It has undergone successful outdoor testing on Caltech’s campus, showcasing its ability to adapt to diverse terrains.
The Nature Communications paper, titled “Multi-Modal Mobility Morphobot (M4), A Platform to Inspect Appendage Repurposing for Locomotion Plasticity Enhancement,” highlights the significant advancements achieved through the development of M4 and the potential it holds for revolutionizing the field of robotics.