Whether they're swooping in to deliver packages or spotting victims in  disaster zones, swarms of flying robots could have a range of important  applications in the future, a new study found.

The robots can transition  from driving to flying without colliding with each other and could  offer benefits beyond the traditional flying-car concepts of sci-fi  lore, the study said.

The ability to both fly and walk is common in nature. For instance, many birds, insects and other animals can do both.

Robots with similar versatility

Robots with similar versatility could fly over impediments on the ground or drive under overhead obstacles.

But currently, robots that are good at one mode of transportation are usually bad at others,  study lead author Brandon Araki, a roboticist at the Massachusetts  Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence  Laboratory, and his colleagues said in their new study.

The roboticists developed algorithms

The roboticists developed algorithms that ensured the robots did not  collide with one another.

In tests in a miniature town made using  everyday materials such as pieces of fabric for roads and cardboard  boxes for buildings, all drones successfully navigated from a starting  point to an ending point on collision-free paths.

Adding the driving apparatus to each drone added weight and so slightly  reduced battery life, decreasing the maximum distances the drones could  fly by about 14 percent, the researchers said.

Still, the scientists  noted that driving remained more efficient than flying, offsetting the  relatively small loss in efficiency in flying due to the added weight.