Gimball flying spherical robot takes collisions in its stride


October 31, 2013

The Gimball bounces off, rather than avoids obstacles

The Gimball bounces off, rather than avoids obstacles

Image Gallery (12 images)

The Japanese Ministry of Defense (JMD) got the ball rolling, as it were, in 2011 when it unveiled its spherical air vehicle, which was followed by the Kyosho Space Ball and Puzzlebox Orbit in 2012. Now researchers at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have got in on the act with Gimball, a flying robot that takes crashing into obstacles in its stride.

Developed by Przemyslaw Mariusz Kornatowski and Adrien Briod from EPFL's Laboratory of Intelligent Systems (LIS), the Gimball prototype ditches the complex and heavy network of sensors most flying robots use to map a clear flight path for a spherical, elastic cage that allows it to bounce back from impacts and continue on its way.

Unlike the JMD's air vehicle, whose body is rigidly fixed to the exterior sphere, the Gimball features a double carbon-fiber ring that passively rotates in the event of a collision to allow the robot's gyroscopically stabilized body to stay vertically oriented. This allows it to quickly recover from impacts, a capability that was inspired by insects.

"Flying insects handle collisions quite well," says Briod. "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."

The Gimball prototype has undergone testing in a Swiss pine forest. Weighing just 370 g (13 oz) and fitted only with a compass and an altitude sensor for navigation, the robot was able to maintain its course over several hundred meters while crashing into several trees along the way.

Like other spherical flying robots that are designed to operate where other robots can't, the Gimball has potential in exploration and search and rescue operations. The robot is fitted with a camera, which isn't used for navigation, but to relay images back to emergency personnel.

Gimball will make its first public appearance at the IREX conference being held in Tokyo from November 5 to 9, 2013, but can be seen in action in the following video.

Source: EPFL

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

A swarm of them capable of dropping a life jacket fitted with a GPS locator could save many lives.

Paul Adams

Hats off to both of you. Such great, and useful, innovation coming from your generation is inspirational to so many.

Craig King

Cool! :)

Bernie Glynn

awesome amazing flight,all this way in 100 years,i would love to see where the inventive mind of mankind takes us in 300 years,if only we could curb our warlike tenancies,limit our birthrate and introduce all new young to reason, and logic, Darwin and evolution and avoid the brain washing of theocratic witch doctors.

Chris Keane
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