The Ouroboros is an ancient Egyptian symbol of a serpent curled around in a circle, consuming its own tail. It also lends its name to Ourobot, a circular shape-shifting all-terrain robot developed by four Computer Engineering students at Germany's Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences.
Looking not unlike a big fat bicycle chain, Ourobot is made up of 12 linked segments, each one containing a motor and a pressure sensor. On flat ground, the robot simply rolls along like a wheel. When its sensors detect that it has encountered an obstacle, however, it flattens down in order to climb over the object like a tracked vehicle.
One thing that Ourobot can't currently do, though is turn – it's limited to traveling in a straight line. That could change with subsequent versions of the robot. Possibilities include having two rings joined together by a central axle, using twisting universal-type joints between the links, or joining two rings together so that their axes cross.
Ourobot was developed by Johann Schroeder, Adrian Gucze, Simon Beyer and Matthaeus Wiltzok, under the supervision of Prof. Axel Schneider and researcher Jan Paskarbeit. It can be seen in action, in the following video.
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