Future Flying Car Inspired by This MIT Mini Drone


MIT engineers are working a new hybrid quadcopter that flies, drives, and paves the way to the future flying car.

We recently met O-R3, the security robot from Singapore. It drives around with a launchable aerial mini drone to increase its surveillance capabilities.

We also discovered the Ehang 184, Dubai’s driverless flying taxi project aiming to decongest ground traffic, expected to debut this July.

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The commercial, residential, and military domains are abuzz with drone activity, and soon we could see drones launch from beehive-like warehouses, delivering packages to our doorsteps on demand. Amazon Prime Air could be doing that quite soon.

In Singapore, an aging population benefits from work being automated by drones. In the self-proclaimed future city of Dubai, traffic might never be an issue. No matter where you look, drones are helping out.

Thanks to MIT researchers with their modified mini drone, the Bitcraze Crazyflie 2.0, drones are even helping us simulate the challenges of a future with flying cars.

MIT’s Mini Drone That can fly and Maneuver on the Ground

Drones are fast and convenient for photographers, search and rescue personnel, and professional drone racers.

However, when considered as a transportation solution, as with Ehang 184, they can’t sustain long journeys due to limited battery life.

On the other end, autonomous road vehicles use less energy than their flying counterparts yet are limited by the strict laws of the roadway.

MIT researchers sought to combine the best of the two into one: a wheeled mini drone that flies like a conventional quadcopter should and also rolls around like a car. The design offers the versatility of flying and longer range energy capacity of road vehicles.

A team of researchers from MIT’s CSAIL (Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory) presented a prototype of hybrid drones that can both take to the sky and maneuver on the ground at the IEEE’s International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), held between May 29th and June 3rd, 2017 in Singapore.

Future Flying Car Concept

In nature, some beings, like birds, are equipped to travel both land and air.

MIT’s mini drone concept takes from that simple observation and builds on a previous project by Brandon Araki, a CSAIL PhD student.

Last year, Araki worked on a “flying monkey robot” that, in addition to flying, can also crawl and grasp objects. However, the monkey drone’s autonomy was very limited as it cannot travel long distances on its own.

The CSAIL team didn’t only design the drone modifications, they have also developed traffic management software to coordinate multiple drones all flying and driving at the same time. It successfully keeps the drones from colliding up even when 80 drones are operating in the same space.

To test their approach, the team built a system–described here–of eight miniature robots with two motors and wheels. Researchers tested the drones in a model that recreates an urban environment, and they could fly for over 90 meters or drive on the ground for 252 meters before emptying their battery.

There’s a long way to go until this prototype evolves to autonomous drones that can carry passengers and goods, but this is a viable solution. Perhaps the software could even be implemented immediately to successful passenger drones like the Ehang 184.

Flying and driving offer the ultimate versatility in the transportation world we know. It’s no wonder that the future flying car is a common vision.

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