Gimball The Crash-Happy Robot Gets Inspiration From Insects
October 30, 2013

Gimball The Crash-Happy Robot Gets Inspiration From Insects

[ Watch the video: Crash-Happy Flying Robot ]

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

A new spherical robot designed to travel in a chaotic manner by bumping and ricocheting off objects is more like an insect than its robot counterparts.

Called Gimball, this crash-happy robot is protected by a spherical, elastic cage which enables it to absorb or rebound from shocks. Also, the sphere helps to give the robot balance using a gyroscopic stabilization system.

Researchers testing Gimball’s chaotic flying method said the robot performed perfectly, careening from tree trunk to tree trunk, but staying on course. They said Gimball is able to stay on course despite its numerous collisions by using twin propellers and fins.

"The idea was for the robot's body to stay balanced after a collision, so that it can keep to its trajectory," Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne PhD student Adrien Briod said in a statement. "Its predecessors, which weren't stabilized, tended to take off in random directions after impact."

The team developed the gyroscopic stabilization system by using a double carbon-fiber ring that helps to keep the robot orientated vertically, while the cage absorbs the shock as it rotates.

Briod said most robots navigate by using a complex network of sensors, allowing them to avoid obstacles by reconstructing the environment around them. He said this is an inconvenient method because the sensors are heavy and fragile and are unable to operate in certain conditions, such as a smoky environment. Instead, insects could be the future of this robot class.

"Flying insects handle collisions quite well. For them, shocks aren't really accidents, because they're designed to bounce back from them. This is the direction we decided to take in our research,” Briod said.

The team built Gimball to handle some of the most difficult terrain that may come its way, such as a natural disaster.

"Our objective was exactly that – to be able to operate where other robots can't go, such as a building that has collapsed in an earthquake. The on-board camera can provide valuable information to emergency personnel,” the PhD student said.

Briod took Gimball to a Swiss pine forest to test out the robot’s flying ability. The robot was outfitted with a compass and an altitude sensor, but the robot demonstrated its ability to maintain its course over several hundred feet despite colliding with several tree trunks along its path.

Gimball is still in the prototype phase, but researchers believe that its stabilization system, spherical shape and ultra-light weight demonstrate the potential of an insect-inspired flying robot better than ever before.

"The mechanics must also be intelligent, since complex obstacle avoidance systems are not sufficient," says Briod. “We’re not yet ready to compete with our model. Insects are still superior."