Robotics

α-WaLTR robot will have wheels that double as legs

α-WaLTR robot will have wheels...
A rendering depicts α-WaLTR's approach to surmounting obstacles such as stairs
A rendering depicts α-WaLTR's approach to surmounting obstacles such as stairs
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A rendering depicts α-WaLTR's approach to surmounting obstacles such as stairs
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A rendering depicts α-WaLTR's approach to surmounting obstacles such as stairs

When it comes to methods of locomotion for robots, wheels are good for some things, while legs are better for others. Scientists are now working on a bot that combines the best of both worlds, with wheels that become legs.

Known as α-WaLTR (Wheel-and-Leg Transformable Robot), the device is being developed by a team at Texas A&M University as part of DARPA's OFFSET Sprint-5 swarm robotics program.

While traversing relatively flat, even terrain, α-WaLTR will roll quickly and efficiently along on four rubber-treaded wheels. Once the robot encounters obstacles such as stairs, rocks or disaster site debris, however, a gearing system within the center of each wheel will cause it to open up into three claw-shaped sections. As each of those claws turns forward, it will grab hold of the uneven terrain, pulling α-WaLTR up and over it.

Plans call for the robot to operate autonomously, automatically switching between wheeled and legged modes as determined by onboard sensors and imaging systems. And even though it's being created for DARPA (the US-based Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), α-WaLTR won't necessarily be limited to use by the armed forces.

"While the current focus is on defense and other military applications, these types of adaptable mobile robots can be applied to many other areas, such as space, domestic service, surveillance and agriculture," says the project leader, Texas A&M's Assoc. Prof. Kiju Lee.

It is hoped that a functioning prototype will be ready for demonstration by next February.

And for another approach to combining robotic wheels and legs, check out the latest version of ETH Zurich's ANYmal quadruped robot – it has a powered wheel on the end of each its legs.

Source: Texas A&M University

5 comments
VincentWolf
This would be great on Mars.
Techrex
?? If all mobile robots have a serious problem with their fuel tanks or electric batteries being emptied or de-charged, why not add a feature to them, based on the established technology of all electric cars? That is, when an electric car brakes or rolls downhill, it exploits these force full motions into a system that recharges its electric batteries. So, perhaps we could add an extending armature or leg in the middle of its undercarriage, which these mobile running robots can extend whenever it is going downhill, with a supermarkets cart wheel on it, that enables it to glide downhill, by being balanced on that wheel, with its other limbs moving to keep it surfing downhill, without expending energy. Further, perhaps this wheel can have a high torque gearworks, that spins an enclosed steel cable within this retractable leg, which reaches inside of the robot, to turn a small electric generator, to use this downward rolling motion energy, to recharge its electric batteries as well.
Heckler
It's alive!
KaiserPingo
This is quite smart.
The only problem is in dirt and gravel getting in to the opening- / closing gear mechanism, blocking it.

If that problem can be solved,maybe using a hydralic system..., the system will have application on many off-road able vehicles.
With using more claws, the speed can be kept up, when off-road.
kwalispecial
It is a cool idea and I hope it works for them. But it reminds me a lot of a toy RC truck from the 1980s called "The Animal", and Amazon shows an even more similar RC car called Cyclaws. I know more serious tech requires a lot more engineering, but the idea was already around.