Like people, mobile robots encounter a range of terrain and obstacles. Building an efficient machine that can deal with uneven surfaces and get around, over or under obstructions is something that vexes many roboticists.
But not scientists at Disney Research and the Swiss institute ETH Zurich. They've teamed up to build a hybrid helicopter-car robot that can move over a variety of ground surfaces and also climb up walls.
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The VertiGo robot has a lightweight carbon-fiber baseplate, 3D-printed parts, four skinny wheels and two propellers that can tilt to drive the little robot forward or up.
Robots able to scale walls typically rely on some kind of adhesion technology (typically in an effort to mimic that versatile lizard, the gecko, which can cling to any surface, including glass). But adhesion works well on some surfaces such as those that are smooth and terribly on others, especially those that are rough.
VertiGo doesn't use adhesion. Instead, its tilting helicopter-like blades spin hard enough to push the robot against the wall, defying gravity. It can traverse smooth surfaces just fine, but also does well on rough ones, too, and even curvy surfaces.
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IEEE Spectrum writer asked Disney's Paul Beardsley how the company would use a robot like VertiGo. He said:
"... I am not able to say specifics as you can understand. But just speaking in general, one can imagine that robots with lighting effects could be useful for entertainment effects or for wall games."
Watch the video below to see the little guy in action. It's pretty impressive.