Scientists have built a shape-shifting robotic drone that transforms from a ground vehicle to a quadcopter, an advance that may lead to novel machines that can perform diverse functions under different conditions and self-heal after being damaged.

The researchers from Virginia Tech in the US first developed a multifunctional material that could change shape, hold the shape, and return to the original configuration, and to do this over many cycles.

“One of the challenges was to create a material that was soft enough to dramatically change shape, yet rigid enough to create adaptable machines that can perform different functions,” Michael Bartlett, assistant professor in mechanical engineering, said in a statement.

The scientists then turned to the Japanese art of kirigami, which involves making shapes out of paper by cutting, to create a structure that could be morphed.

Then they developed an endoskeleton made of a low melting point alloy (LMPA) embedded inside a rubber skin.

When a…