At first glance, the VertiGo robot looks like it defies the laws of physics. Without sticky surfaces it quickly changes from a rolling robot to a wall-climbing marvel. But this little bot isn’t quite what it seems. Hiding amongst VertiGo’s wheels are two steerable propellers. By generating the right amount of thrust, the propellers push the robot against whatever it’s trying to climb, and keep it from falling as it makes its way.
The final prototype, a collaboration between Disney Research and ETH Zurich, aimed to maximize the ratio between thrust output and vehicle weight — a problem the team solved by using ultralight carbon fiber for the base and 3D-printed ABS plastic for the more complicated structures, like the suspension and wheels. The materials helped the robot “stick” to vertical surfaces with minimal output from the propellers.
Speaking of the propellers, those dual fans do more than take the robot sky-high, they move it on the ground as well. None of the wheels are actually powered.
Just what Disney plans to do with the concept car remains a mystery, but we can only hope it will be available to the public at some point. Another likely explanation, however, is that the medial mogul plans to use incarnations of the device on film sets. “Just speaking in general, one can imagine that robots with lighting effects could be useful for entertainment effects,” Disney researcher Paul Beardsley told IEEE Spectrum.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a robot climb a wall (remember the tornado-powered Paraswift?), but because VertiGo doesn’t rely on suction, it manages to maneuver rough surfaces that would inhibit a vacuum-tight seal. This makes it an inherently more versatile machine. “By transitioning from the ground to a wall and back again, VertiGo extends the ability of robots to travel through urban and indoor environments,” write the researchers. “Theoretically [it works] even on the ceiling.”
We’ll be watching this one closely, that’s for sure.
IMAGES: Disney Research