Gimball: A crash-happy flying robot (w/ Video)

Oct 30, 2013
Credit: Adrien Briod holding the Gimball

Gimball bumps into and ricochets off of obstacles, rather than avoiding them. This 34 centimeter in diameter spherical flying robot buzzes around the most unpredictable, chaotic environments, without the need for fragile detection sensors. This resiliency to injury, inspired by insects, is what sets it apart from other flying robots. Gimball is protected by a spherical, elastic cage which enables it to absorb and rebound from shocks. It keeps its balance using a gyroscopic stabilization system. When tested in the forests above Lausanne, Switzerland, it performed brilliantly, careening from tree trunk to tree trunk but staying on course. It will be presented in public at the IREX conference in Tokyo, Japan from November 5-9, 2013.

Powered by twin propellers and steered by fins, Gimball can stay on course despite its numerous collisions. This feat was a formidable challenge for EPFL PhD student Adrien Briod. "The idea was for the robot's body to stay balanced after a collision, so that it can keep to its trajectory," he explains. "Its predecessors, which weren't stabilized, tended to take off in random directions after impact." With colleague Przemyslaw Mariusz Kornatowski, Briod developed the gyroscopic consisting of a double carbon-fiber ring that keeps the robot oriented vertically, while the cage absorbs as it rotates.

Going sensor-free: insect-inspired design

Most robots navigate using a complex network of sensors, which allow them to avoid obstacles by reconstructing the environment around them. It's an inconvenient method, says Briod. "The sensors are heavy and fragile. And they can't operate in certain conditions, for example if the environment is full of smoke."

Gimball's robustness lies in its technological simplicity, says Briod. "Flying insects handle collisions quite well. 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."

Navigating chaotic environments

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

The flying is prepared to deal with the most difficult terrain out there. "Our objective was exactly that – to be able to operate where other robots can't go, such as a building that has collapsed in an earthquake. The on-board camera can provide valuable information to emergency personnel." The scientist had an opportunity to test his prototype in a Swiss pine forest. Fitted out with just a compass and an altitude sensor, Gimball demonstrated its ability to maintain its course over several hundred meters despite colliding with several tree trunks along the way.

Przemyslaw Mariusz Kornatowski (left) and Adrien Briod (right) hold the Gimball. Credit: EPFL / Alain Herzog

Gimball is the latest in a long line of colliding robots developed in the laboratory of EPFL professor Dario Floreano. But its stabilization system, spherical shape and ultralight weight – barely 370 grams – demonstrate the potential of the concept better than ever before. "The mechanics must also be intelligent, since complex obstacle avoidance systems are not sufficient," says Briod. Even so, he insists, "we're not yet ready to compete with our model. Insects are still superior."

Explore further: Engineers debut adhesive material based on gecko feet

Related Stories

DALER project shows a walking flying robot (w/ Video)

Aug 04, 2013

(Phys.org) —At the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems we are developing a novel flying platform which has the ability to move on the ground by using its wings only. Using the wings as whegs to move on rough ...

The Matterhorn like you've never seen it

Oct 16, 2013

Two EPFL spin-offs, senseFly and Pix4D, have modeled the Matterhorn in 3D, at a level of detail never before achieved. It took senseFly's ultralight drones just six hours to snap the high altitude photographs tha ...

Flying robots get off the ground

Jun 17, 2013

Attaching a platform to a high-rise building to evacuate people in an emergency, or creating a landing stage for an aircraft on uneven terrain - these are just two areas in which flying robots could have ...

Recommended for you

Self-folding robot walks, swims, climbs, dissolves

4 hours ago

A demo sparking interest at the ICRA 2015 conference in Seattle was all about an origami robot that was worked on by researchers. More specifically, the team members are from the computer science and artificial ...

Cheetah robot lands the running jump (w/ Video)

May 29, 2015

In a leap for robot development, the MIT researchers who built a robotic cheetah have now trained it to see and jump over hurdles as it runs—making this the first four-legged robot to run and jump over ...

Robot swarms use collective cognition to perform tasks

May 28, 2015

The COCORO project's robot swarms not only look like schools of fish, they behave like them too. The project developed autonomous robots that interact with each other and exchange information, resulting in ...

Job-sharing with nursing robot

May 27, 2015

Given the aging of the population and the low birthrate both in Japan and elsewhere, healthcare professionals are in short supply and unevenly distributed, giving rise to a need for alternatives to humans ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

VendicarE
not rated yet Oct 30, 2013
Damn good idea.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.