There's a shape-shifting military robot on the horizon, and its name isn't Optimus Prime. The "Multi-Modal Vehicle Concept" designed by the Intelligent Systems, Robotics, and Cybernetics Unit at Sandia National Laboratory, is a drone that can fly, swim, or drive, according to Wired.
In other words, it's a Transformer.
The Multi-Modal Vehicle can fly like the many Unmanned Aerial Vehicles that regularly make headlines, then dive underwater and convert its wings into the fins. Underneath it all are a set of drive wheels. It can even jump 30 feet in the air.
This do-it-all vehicle could theoretically allow one remote operator to conduct an entire mission over varying terrain. Normally, this would require coordination among several different military units. Sandia also says the drone's ability to transform into different types of vehicles allows it to more readily adapt to changing circumstances mid-mission.
In a sense, the Multi-Modal Vehicle's ability to operate on air, land, and sea makes it the robotic equivalent of elite Special Operations units, like the Navy SEALs. Sandia engineer Jon Salton told Wired that the drone could potentially supplement human special operators on future missions.
The one drawback to all this flexibility is that--unlike an Autobot--the Multi-Modal Vehicle can't change back. It sheds parts as it transforms from winged aircraft to wheeled vehicle, meaning it would also have trouble making a return trip.
Sandia has conducted limited testing on prototype hardware, but still needs to secure funding for a complete test vehicle. Soon, there won't be anywhere to hide.