Meet M4: The real-life transformer robot that can fly, roll, walk, and more!

Credit: California Institute of Technology

Imagine if one day you could roll to school, fly over traffic, walk through a park, and even climb steep hills, all while using the same set of wheels.

It might seem like a dream, but it’s a reality for a new robot named M4.

Designed by a team of scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Northeastern University, M4 is like a real-life Transformer, capable of changing its body to perform eight different types of movements depending on the situation.

Here’s how M4 works: it has four wheels for rolling around, but when it encounters an obstacle, it can stand up on two wheels to see what’s ahead, just like a meerkat!

If it finds something it can’t cross, like a big gap or a ravine, it can transform its wheels into rotors and fly across. M4 can also use its wheels like feet to “walk”, and even tumble.

A robot like M4 that can move in many different ways would be very useful. It could carry injured people to hospitals or explore other planets where the ground might be difficult for humans or other robots to walk on.

M4 was developed by Dr. Mory Gharib and Dr. Alireza Ramezani, with the help of a team of engineers and researchers. They published their work in a scientific journal called Nature Communications.

But the coolest thing about M4 isn’t just how it moves—it’s how it decides to move. M4 uses artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze the ground ahead of it and choose the best way to get around.

For example, if it’s going somewhere far, it might roll on its wheels because that uses the least energy. If it comes across a big rock, it could stand up on two wheels to see what’s ahead. If there’s a big gap it can’t roll across, it can turn its wheels into rotors and fly over it.

In the design of M4, the scientists were inspired by animals like chukar birds, which flap their wings for extra push while running up steep hills, and sea lions, which use their flippers to move on land and in water.

By imitating these natural examples, the team created M4 to be as adaptable as possible.

M4 is not just a concept – it has been tested outside and has successfully navigated around Caltech’s campus. The team believes that in the future, M4 could get even better at walking and handling rough terrain.

So, the next time you’re stuck in traffic or have to climb a steep hill, just imagine being like M4, the real-life Transformer robot. You’d just fly over or roll up any obstacles in your path!