Round-Bodied Robot Rolls, Uses Legs to Steer

University of Illinois created a robot inspired by the wheel-bodied droide from Star Wars.

Image credits: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

A researcher at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign created a robot inspired by the wheel-bodied battle droids from Star Wars. The robot can roll along on one big wheel, using extendable legs to steer. Dubbed Ringbot, the robot created by Assoc. Prof. Joohyung Kim and colleagues at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, could one day used for making deliveries.

What inspired Kim was not just Star Wars, but he took ideas from the various full-size monowheels that have been created over the years.

In a monowheel, the rider is seated on a motorized platform that is supported by a ring-shaped rail that encircles the interior of a single, large wheel. The wheel rolls around the platform, keeping it level with the ground and propelling the vehicle ahead.

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Actually, Kim also drew inspiration from "wheeled-foot" robots, such ANYmal from ETH Zurich, which has motorized wheels attached to the tips of all four of its legs.

In fact, Kim also took inspiration from "wheeled-foot" robots such as ETH Zurich's ANYmal, which has motorized wheels on the ends of each of its four legs. Those wheels allow the robot to travel like a car, rapidly and effectively, on smooth surfaces. But while the robot is walking on rough ground, the wheels lock together to act as feet.

The Ringbot has a 515 mm-diameter wheel with a solid elastomer tire wrapped around a nylon/carbon composite rim. There are two motorized driving modules located inside the rim one-in-front-of-the-other.

A stretchable curly cord connects those modules with one another, and the modules hold the surface of the rim through small cog wheels of their own. Each module also has an articulated robotic leg on top, which can extend out to the side pointing up or down, reports NewAtlas.

Described as being like two hamsters running in an exercise wheel, the Ringbot's wheel start to rotate around the modules when they start to spin up their cogs.

They automatically modify their distance from one another to alter the robot's lateral center of mass as necessary to keep it balanced when moving at various speeds. When it's time to turn left or right, one or the other module will extend its leg outwards to shift the bot's balance to that side.

In addition, the legs can be deployed down to the ground in order to hold the Ringbot up when it's stopped, and to turn it around on the spot before it restarts travel. Like a motorcyclist placing his foot down on a road, the legs also prevent it from toppling over in the event of an imbalance. If the robot ends up flat on one side against the ground, the legs can even raise it back up.

The Ringbot was operated by a human operator via remote control in indoor tests, reaching a maximum speed of 5 km/h (3 mph).

"In big cities, many bikes and motorcycles navigate through traffic to fulfill delivery needs, thanks to their ability to maneuver through narrow spaces," said Kim. "We plan to enhance Ringbot's capabilities specifically for last-mile deliveries in congested settings, aiming to automate and optimize delivery processes."

Sam Draper
April 8, 2024

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