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Rosphere spherical robot could be rolling up for work to monitor and tend crops


July 7, 2013

Rosphere uses a pendulum for locomotion and steering

Rosphere uses a pendulum for locomotion and steering

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If you see what looks like a hamster ball rolling around a cornfield, it doesn’t mean that someone’s pet is incredibly lost. It may be an experimental robot developed by the Robotics and Cybernetics Research Group at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM) called Rosphere. The spherical robot can propel itself over uneven ground and may one day be rolling up for work in fields to monitor and tend crops.

Spherical robots aren't new. There have been a number built over the years for use in military operations, security, and experiments in space exploration. Rosphere’s approach is to take the simplicity of the sphere to make a robot that is low cost and a bit more general purpose. Its spherical shape gives the robot the ability to handle rough terrain, yet is safe to use around humans and delicate crops.

Mechanically, the Rosphere prototype is remarkably simple. The researchers compare the robot’s “mechatronics” to a hamster ball, which it strongly resembles except for the rubber ridges on the outside and the mechanical workings inside. Like a hamster making a ball roll by running up the sides to shift the center of gravity, the Rosphere uses an eccentric pendulum rotating on an axle to roll and steer itself.

The pendulum consists of ballast hanging by an arm from the ball’s axle. This ballast incorporates the robot’s battery and the axle carries Rosphere’s Wi-Fi antennas and electronics package. The pendulum has two rotational degrees of freedom along the transverse and longitudinal axes. By controlling the pendulum’s swing, the robot can roll forward and backward and steer.

UPM sees the main application for Rosphere being in precision agriculture. That is, instead of tending crops by broadcasting pesticides and fertilizers and dealing with a field as a whole, small robots can tend the individual plants like a gardener. Robots like Rosphere would be able to move about crops without damaging them, making close-up examinations of local conditions and precisely applying pesticides and fertilizers.

Tests of Rosphere were conducted on a farm where it was put up against rough terrain and different soils while testing for moisture and other environmental variables. Afterwards, it was tested at the Parque del Retiro of Madrid to see if it could operate safely with people. According to UPM, the results have so far been satisfactory.

The project results were published in Industrial Robot.

The video below shows Rosphere in action.

Source: Universidad Politécnica de Madrid

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

human safe design, because Tom Seleck (runaway) showed what happens if you don't do that first.


Just don't paint it red otherwise people will mistake it for a killer tomato!


I went all organic 55 years ago as a gardener. If I were a commercial grower/land owner, I would want to keep building the soil, every year, year after year. This increases yields without spending money on ever increasing fertilizer and pesticides. Organic is cheaper, safer, and produces a better crop.

See: "The Natural Way of Farming: The Theory and Practice of Green Philosophy" by Masanobu Fukuoka

Don Duncan

Just like I think the true cost of energy should be charged to the consumer, such as military deployments in the middle east, we need to do away with subsidies and hidden cost of food production.

My point is that there are always claims (and some rightly so) that the US needs illegals to do a lot of labor intensive farm work because; 1) Americans will not do it, 2) cannot be cheaply done by Americans. What the infusion of cheap labor has done is retard the advancement of technology for farming in the US. The US does not NEED cheap illegal labor, it just easier than fixing the problem with greater technology. Remove the illegal labor and a farm will either change to another crop or a technology will be created to allow the farm to produce the crop without the illegal labor and still be globally competitive.

Not a Pro/Con for immigration, simply a cause/affect of our current situation.

Rann Xeroxx

need hatches & apetures for robotic arms let alone sensors to scan crops

Stephen Russell

If you are going to tend plants individually, then you'd better be able to do something to the plants. Where's the three point hitch? PTO? Articulated arm(s)? At least it is not trying to straddle rows. As for driving, can it go straight down a row or follow a predetermined line? Driving on sand would be easy, what about wet gumbo or wheat stubble? Robotics are probably the distant future of farming, but this is sort of a joke. BTW, I've got a robotic lawnmower, have a college degree in agriculture and was raised on a farm.

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