A new concept for a drone that can travel by air, sea and land even has the villainous Megatron hanging his head in shame. The all-terrain drone can fly, swim, drive and even hop across a diversity of landscapes, and could prove useful in military special ops, according to Discover Magazine.
But it’s still just an idea. Developed by the Sandia National Laboratories, a research arm of the U.S. Department of Energy in Albuquerque, N.M., the “Multi-Modal Vehicle Concept” was designed to simplify military missions involving unmanned aircraft. According to Wired, the all-terrain drone would work off a single interface, meaning that it could adapt mid-mission as landscapes change.
“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,” Jon Salton, a Sandia engineer working on the project, told Wired.
Over the past decade, the U.S. government has deployed more than 400 high-altitude drones all over the world, with names like Reapers, Predators, Hunters and Gray Eagles. According to The Washington Post, the next wave of U.S. military drone warfare is focused more on snooping than killing. An all-terrain drone could aid military personnel in special missions where spying from different vantages would be valuable.
According to the design description, the all-terrain drone would start off as an aircraft. If it's over a body of water, it could then nose-dive in and and shed its wings and sprout flippers to paddle its way to shore. Then, the drone could ditch the paddles for a set of wheels, and drive its way up the seafloor and onto dry land. It would also have the ability to hop as high as 30 feet.
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In a concept video uploaded to YouTube by SandiaLabs, you can see the creators’ vision for the all-terrain drone. The unmanned aircraft makes a trip from the air, to water, to dry land, transforming as it goes from one medium to another.
YouTube viewers were quick to pounce on what they perceived as some of the more obvious shortcomings of the all-terrain drone design. “The problem I see is that the concept would only be used one time only, which would make it very inefficient and expensive for removable parts,” one commenter wrote.
And that’s just it: The all-terrain drone carries a one-way ticket, and a robot that expensive isn’t something that can just be left behind. The vehicle would have to shed parts each time it transitioned, and recovering those dropped parts isn’t likely in combat.
According to Wired, Sandia National Laboratories has already built and tested conceptual hardware for the all-terrain drone. But they’re still looking for industry partners to help fund the Multi-Modal Vehicle.