If you bumped into your eight-year-old self on the street and told him that actual Transformers would walk — fly, crawl, and swim — the planet within his lifetime, your eight-year-old self's head would probably explode. But shape-shifting autonomous robots are exactly what's in the works at the Sandia National Laboratory.
The lab's Intelligent Systems, Robotics and Cybernetics unit is developing a drone that can travel by air, dive into the ocean, transform into an underwater vessel, then shed its casings and emerge on shore as a land vehicle. The folks at Sandia hope that the multi-environment vehicle — currently in the "mature concept" stage and waiting on funding for a prototype — will become a huge asset for special forces teams.
"The real value added [of the Multi-Modal Vehicle] is that it allows maximum flexibility in highly complex missions without the concern over whether or not all of the vehicles are positioned just right," engineer Jon Salton told Wired. "It should be at least be able to substantially enhance the capabilities of Special Ops."
At this point in time, the Multi-Modal Vehicle is just one of many somewhat off-the-wall future drone concepts. They range from the hopeful — like this plastic litter-eating marine drone — to the horrifying — like this nuclear-powered drone concept that also happens to come out of Sandia. And who could forget about the Roomba-like drone concept that eats up oil after a spill? Speculative drone concepts have been known to become drone reality, too. We need to look no further than the Navy's amazing X-47B concept, which took off and landed on an aircraft carrier earlier this year, to now how close the future is to right now. [Wired]