Robot rolls, 'looks' you in the eye

Who needs a robot on two legs when you can have one that rolls?

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, a well-known hub for breakthroughs in robotics, said Wednesday that they've built a new type of mobile robot that can balance and move in any direction on a ball, instead of with mechanical legs or wheels.

The robot is named "Ballbot," and is designed to have some human characteristics. It weighs 95 pounds and is roughly the size of an average person, except that it balances on a single, urethane-coated metal sphere. Unlike typical mobile robots, like humanoids that move around on three or more wheels, Ballbot is less bulky and can navigate tight spaces.

"We wanted to create a robot that can maneuver easily and is tall enough to look you in the eye," Ralph Hollis, the creator of Ballbot and a robotics professor at Carnegie, said in a statement.

Hollis, whose work has been funded by the National Science Foundatioin, said that Ballbot represents a new generation of mobile robotics that could ultimately prove more stable and life-like.

Ballbot is equipped with an onboard computer that analyzes balance data from internal sensors. That data then helps produce instructions for activating rollers within Ballbot's ball--a system that Carnegie calls an inverse mouse-ball drive. When the robot isn't moving, it has a kick-stand in the form of three retractable legs.

Carnegie researchers have so far show that Ballbot can move around on carpet. The next challenge is to give Ballbot a head and arms that can help rotate and balance its body.

 

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