Forget Flying Cars, the Future Is Driving Drones

Flying car concepts have been around nearly as long as their earthbound cousins, but no one has yet made them a commercial success. MIT engineers think we’ve been coming at the problem from the wrong direction; rather than putting wings on cars, we should be helping drones to drive.

The team from the university’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) added wheels to a fleet of eight mini-quadcopters and tested driving and flying them around a tiny toy town made out of cardboard and fabric.

Adding the ability to drive reduced the distance the drone could fly by 14 percent compared to a wheel-less version. But while driving was slower, the drone could travel 150 percent further than when flying. The result is a vehicle that combines the speed and mobility of flying with the energy-efficiency of driving.

The attraction is obvious. Electric-powered drones are more compact, maneuverable, and environmentally friendly, making them suitable for urban environments. Safety requirements will inevitably be more stringent, but adding more predictable and controllable autonomous drones to the skies is likely to be more attractive to regulators than trying to license and police thousands of new amateur pilots.

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Ella ShepardComment