Skin-shedding drone can traverse air, water and land

Credit: Sandia Labs

Today's military drones are pretty slick at getting into enemy airspace for a little bit of aerial reconnisance, but sometimes the view from above just isn't good enough. Hidden installations and underwater defenses remain complete mysteries to an airborne vehicle. But now there's a new drone concept on the table that just might be able to go anywhere the mission demands.

Developed at Sandia National Laboratory, the "Multi-Modal Vehicle Concept" is a bit like a Russian nesting doll of a drone. It begins its life as a fixed-wing aircraft, capable of taking long-range reconnaissance flights. But when the need arises for a closer look, it can dip below the waves, shed its wings and swim with its own paddle-like limbs.

Once in the shallows and heading toward dry land, the drone goes through a second transformation. Leaving its flippers on the sea floor, the drone rolls out of the water on four flexible wheels. If even driving around doesn't get it to its intended destination, the Multi-Modal Vehicle will also be capable of sand-flea style leaps of up to thirty feet in the air.

While the concept is fairly well developed, the need to shed its skin for each transformation does mean that once on wheels, the Multi-Modal drone lacks the ability to return home. Then again, when you simply must see what's behind the curtain, a Multi-Modal drone just might be the right tool for any job.

Sandia labs, via Wired

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