As we continue of the forefront of robot innovation and design, scientists and engineers often run into the issue of simplicity versus efficiency. In this case, that battle is whether a robot can easily traverse area via flying with little efficiency or take to the ground but risk running into an obstacle. Researchers from the Center for Distributed Robotics are ready to fix this little quandary.
A prototype was built by the folks at the University of Minnesota that can effectively traverse on the ground a majority of the time, and when stuck will take to the skies. The prototype is young and fragile, but fully functional.
The little cylindrical device rolls on two wheels, controlled remotely. When the robot is stopped by an obstacle or if the user so desire, it can instantly transform into a small helicopter-like device. A folded tail extends to push the device vertically. Two sets of rotor-blades are then free to spin and give the small robot lift.
Instead of building one motor that could act as both a transmission for both the slower wheels or the high speed rotors, it was more efficient to create two separate motors for each system. This un-complicates the functionality and transforming process slightly, but it still a sophisticated little package.
In the video, it comes across as a high school science fair project, but do not be swayed. The folding tail section alone costs about $20,000 to develop and create.
The future for this robot looks bright, as the next iteration will be much less fragile and will rely on a non-coaxial system for flight. Work will also go into designing proper autonomous pathing to take full advantage of its abilities. Teaching the robot when to fly and when to roll will probably be the most difficult task.
Overall, there are plenty of useful applications for a hybrid-transport robot. Military usage mainly comes to mind with the ability to use sophisticated ground sensors while being able to easily traverse the toughest deserts. With a more finely tuned and protected version, exploration of our solar system would also be a possibility, granted they find a way to overcome the thin atmospheres of most planets. Either way, I hope I will see a cheap version in the local Radio Shack so I know what to get for Christmas.
Via: IEEE Spectrum