It would appear that we've finally reached the phase of UAV development where researchers get tired of coming up with new ideas and say, "You know what? Lets just smash a few of the ones we've already got together and see what happens." The result is, well, this ungainly mechanisation but it's one that could save your hide in a natural disaster.
Dubbed the Hybrid Bot by its creators at the Modular Robotics Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, this amalgamated animatronic combines the powers of wheeled snake-bots — two of them in fact — which are ideal for investigating crevasses and other tight spaces, as well as a quadcopter to airlift the other snake robots into position via a magnetic lock system. Each snake can easily navigate up 4-inch pipes and staircases on their own but in situations where every second counts, the quadcopter can shave valuable seconds and minutes off the snake-bot's travel time.
In an emergency situation — a collapsed building for example — first responders would be able to deploy a system like this as soon as they arrive on scene. Since the snake-bots are relatively small — compared to, say, human-sized robot-firefighters — they wouldn't damage the already shaky structure, potentially causing a further collapse, and be able to slip into tiny gaps that people or even SAR dogs wouldn't dare venture.
The University of Pennsylvania team recently shared their findings at the 2014 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems.