Dec 29, 2015 | By Kira
Disney Research Zurich and ETH Zurich have teamed up to create a multimodal, wheeled robot that can transition from driving over rugged terrain to climbing vertical walls in seconds, easily ascending elevations of all sizes and angels, regardless of their surface texture and without the use of sticky pads or suction. Instead, VertiGo relies on two tiltable propellers that provide thrust against the wall, and a mix of carbon fibre and 3D printed parts to keep its weight as low as possible, ensuring speed, agility, and gravity defying moves.
Whereas past 3D printed robot designs have relied on suction to climb up walls or grab things, VertiGo’s design utilizes the thrust of powerful propellers to generate downward force, enabling the vehicle to easily drive its four wheels over bumpy, rugged terrain, and then transition within seconds to climbing vertical surfaces. The concept is very similar to spoilers or other aerodynamic features on racecars, which generate a downward force and keep the car firmly pressed to the road for increased traction.
Unlike typical RC cars, it’s not the wheels that users steer, but the helicopter-like propellers themselves, each of which offers two degrees of freedom for either horizontal or vertical driving. As Disney explains, the choice of two propellers rather than one is the key to VertiGo’s seamless floor-to-wall transition: thrust is applied both towards the wall using the rear propeller, and in an upward direction using the front propeller, causing the robot to flip vertically and get right back in motion.
Of course, another key to ensuring that the VertiGo can easily climb walls is to keep it as lightweight as possible, reducing the amount of thrust that must be generated in the first place to keep it moving. This was achieved in part thanks to 3D printing.
“A key research problem in the design of VertiGo robot was to maximize the ratio between thrust output and vehicle weight,” explained Principal Research Scientist at Disney, Paul Beardsley. “Weight is minimized by using a central carbon fibre baseplate, while 3D-printed parts in conjunction with carbon-rods are used for more complex three dimensional structures like the wheel suspension or the wheels themselves. The baseplate provides mounting points for two thruster modules and the wheel suspensions. It also serves as carrier for all the electronic parts and wires.” In total, the VertiGo measures about 60 centimeters long, yet weighs no more than 2k (4.4 lbs).
“The full design has eight individually controlled actuators. To enable a human operator to conveniently drive the vehicle in a way similar to common RC-cars, an onboard computer is incorporated as a controller,” Beardsley continued.
VertiGo’s seamless ground-to-wall transition extends the ability of robots to travel through urban and indoor environments. Most importantly, because there is no need to ensure a solid vacuum-seal, as for suction-based climbing robots, VertiGo can move over just about any surface, including masonry, glass, trees, curved walls, and potentially even ceilings. It’s also easier and safer to control than many flying drones. Though it’s current lithium polymer battery is only capable of lasting for about 10 minutes at a time, many existing drones face the same limitations, and researchers are no doubt working on a solution to that.
Both Disney Research and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) have been making significant advancements in 3D printed robotics. Disney, for example, has already revealed an automated method for create 3D printed connectors, 3D printed soft-skins for kid-safe robotic toys, and a 3D printed robot that walks like an animated character, all of which have pretty useful applications for Disney-related toys, merchandise, or filmmaking equipment. As far as applications for their wall-climbing VertiGo, however, the company is remaining characteristically tight-lipped:
“About why Disney is interested in this area, 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,” said Beardsley. “We are motivated by making a practical device, so it is real-world feedback and challenges that drive our work.” Additional applications could be industrial inspection robots, robotic vacuum cleaners, or exploratory vehicles for outer space or even just remote or dangerous areas here on Earth.
Regardless of how Disney and/or ETH Zurich intend to use VertiGo, the technology itself is quite impressive, and extends robotic capabilities one step further that what was possible before. It’s kind of a cute-looking for four-wheeled robot, too, although I’m not sure if that’s just my imagination or the magic Disney touch. See the VertiGo 3D printed robot in action below:
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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