Tracked robot rises up to tackle obstacles
Robots move along in all kinds of different ways. Some walk on legs, others roll on wheels, and some crawl on tracks. At some point though, they'll encounter an obstacle and the RCTR from Israel's Ben Gurion University tackles this by rising up and trundling on over.
The Reconfigurable Continuous Track Robot (RCTR) is pretty much all track, and comes out of David Zarrouk's Bio-Inspired and Medical Robotics Lab at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev. This lab has been responsible for a number of novel movers in the past, including the single-motored SAW that used wave motion to crawl, swim and climb, a drone that could fly and motor along the ground, and a bot that moved over hard surfaces like pavement using round wheels and three-spoked wheels to tackle dirt.
Zarrouk's team has again opted to go minimal for the RCTR, using three motors in the current prototype but with the aim to get that down to two in the future. As the robot moves along, the flexible links that make up the continuously rolling track can be locked in place so that the crawler remains stiff, or left unlocked for flexibility. If links are locked at an angle, the front end can rise up to meet obstacles.
As you can see in the demonstration video below, mixing up locked and unlocked links can see the RCTR hopping over a low obstacle so that none of its tracks come into contact with it, rolling over uneven terrain by flexing its body, and stiffening up to bridge a gap in the road ahead.
If this kind of bot was developed for search and rescue purposes, for example, this flexibility would allow it to survey disaster sites without having to reset its course when faced with fallen infrastructure or craters and pot-holes.
But as IEEE Spectrum points out, the current prototype can only move in straight lines, so some sort of steering mechanism will need to be employed before this moves out of the lab and into real-world applications. It would also be useful if autonomous piloting technology was incorporated into the design so that it could do its thing without operator control.
For the moment though, the RCTR remains in development. A paper on the project has been published in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters.