α-WaLTR robot will have wheels that double as legs
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