They say everyone needs to learn to crawl before they can walk, but if you're a stick-like robot dreamt up in the weird and wonderful lab at Disney Research it looks like you can skip a few steps and learn to do majestic backflips first.
Scientists working at Disney Research have made a habit of showing off early-stage technologies that are generally a ways off entering practical use but offer an interesting look at what the future might hold – like conductive paint that turns walls into sensors, virtual reality jackets and systems that turn entire rooms into wireless chargers.
Disney's Stickman robot isn't about to unleashed into the world, nor is it quite capable of the acrobatics of the Atlas humanoid robot from Boston Dynamics, which can walk, hop, jump and, as of November last year, pull off standing backflips with grace any gymnast would be proud of.
Stickman takes a simpler form and is basically a mechanical stick with two degrees of freedom. It hooks up to a gravity-driven pendulum that launches it into the air, where a combination of onboard laser rangefinders, inertial measurement unit and motion sensor systems take over control.
These track the position of the robot as it moves through the air, and, most importantly, dictate when and the speed with which it tucks up into a ball and then untucks again for landing. In doing so, how quickly the robot spins can be controlled, enabling it to pull of single backflips, double backflips or none at all.
As is sometimes the case with Disney Research projects, the real-world potential of the Stickman isn't entirely clear and it does just land flat on its back on a mat. But it is an interesting advance in the development of robot dynamics, which is making machines more agile, mobile and human-like all the time.
And it looks pretty cool too, as you can see in the video below.
Source: Disney Research
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