GimBall - a flying robot that bounces off the walls like a ball

    Last summer, scientists from the laboratory of intelligent systems of the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne demonstrated a prototype of a flying robot that is not afraid of falls and collisions with obstacles. The essence of the idea is that the robot is surrounded by a lightweight carbon fiber frame that protects it from damage, and after falling, the robot is turned into working position with elastic legs.

    New version of the robot- GimBall - advanced much further - the protective frame has a spherical shape and rotates freely around the body of the robot. This allows not only to avoid damage, but also to maintain perfect handling after any collisions. The robot literally bounces off the walls and ceiling like a ball, while the rotors remain in the set position. Another advantage of GimBall - the cells of the protective sphere are small enough to reliably protect the screws and the casing not only from smooth walls and building structures, but also from tree branches and bushes. During the tests, the robot flew through the forest several hundred meters without problems, constantly bumping into the thickets.

    The ultimate goal of developers is to ensure that robots, like insects, are able to fly freely in complex environments and withstand constant collisions with obstacles. Moreover, they are trying not only to avoid the unpleasant consequences of collisions, but also to use them.

    One of the directions of the laboratory’s work is devoted to the study of the capabilities of tactile sensors for navigation - a robot equipped with a set of such sensors can orient itself by touch, or “roll” along a vertical wall or ceiling. Such a robot could well do without a complex computer vision system and work where vision is of little use - in caves or smoky rooms.

    In the future, another scenario of using collisions to improve performance is also possible - a robot can be taught to bump into obstacles on purpose, at a certain angle and at a certain speed, which can significantly improve its maneuverability - instead of smooth turns requiring a decrease in speed, it will change direction rapidly, like billiard ball.

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