This flying robot DRAGON (Dual-rotor embedded multilink Robot with the Ability of multi-deGree-of-freedom aerial transformatiON, obviously) is one of the most original robots I've seen in a while, and I've seen all the robots.
(Flying dragon robot)
DRAGON is made of a series of linked modules, each of which consists of a pair of ducted fan thrusters that can be actuated in roll and pitch to vector thrust in just about any direction you need. The modules are connected to one another with a powered hinged joint, and the whole robot is driven by an Intel Euclid and powered by a battery pack (providing 3 minutes of flight time, which is honestly more than I would have thought), mounted along the robot’s spine. This particular prototype is made up of four modules, allowing it to behave sort of like a quadrotor, even though I suppose technically it’s an octorotor.
we were told at ICRA that DRAGON is able to autonomously decide how to transform when given the constraints of the space it needs to pass through. There’s more potential here than just fitting through small spaces, though: The researchers conceptualize this robot as a sort of overactuated flying arm that can both form new shapes and use those shapes to interact with the world around it by manipulating objects. Eventually, DRAGON will wiggle through the air with as many as 12 interlinked modules, and it’ll use its two ends to pick up objects like a two-fingered gripper.
“Design, Modeling and Control of Aerial Robot DRAGON: Dual-Rotor Embedded Multilink Robot with the Ability of Multi-Degree-of-Freedom Aerial Transformation,” by Moju Zhao, Tomoki Anzai, Fan Shi, Xiangyu Chen, Kei Okada, and Masayuki Inaba