There are robots that move well on the ground and robots that can effortlessly climb walls, but it’s tough to find one that does both well and can transition seamlessly between them. A robot designed with help from Disney does just that and can even drive across the ceiling. Is it practical or just a plot device for a new movie?
The 4-wheeled robot – unveiled on December 29th - is called the VertiGo (this sure sounds like a movie plot) because it can go vertically directly from a horizontal position. It was designed jointly in Switzerland by Disney Research Zurich (part of an international network of Disney research labs working in robotics, human-computer research, materials research and other areas) and the ETH Zurich research institute (whose science and engineering faculty includes 21 Nobel Laureates).
As seen in the video, the VertiGo’s climbing ability depends not on suction but on the force of fans pushing air hard enough to hold it against a wall or ceiling. On the ground, the rear fan acts like a propeller to move the robot forward over virtually any terrain. When it hits a wall, the front fan activates, forcing air down to lift the front of the robot up the wall. Meanwhile, the rear fan pushes the rest of the vehicle up. The fans then tilt automatically to use the force air to keep the robot pressed against the wall while moving forward. The same process repeats when the robot reaches another wall, the ceiling or the floor.
But, as they say on TV, that’s not all. All of the movements of the fans occur without the aid or a human operator. The robot’s on-board 6-axis inertial measurement unit works with two infra-red distance sensors to tell if it’s horizontal, vertical or about to transition (sounds like something that would come in handy for a pub crawl).
Because the VertiGo uses thrust instead of suction, it does not need a smooth plane and can move and climb over brick, stone or other rough surfaces. The directional sensor keeps the fans from flipping over and flying away.
So what are the planned uses for the VertiGo? Disney researcher and spokesperson Paul Beardsley wouldn’t reveal much.
About why Disney is interested in this area, I am not able to say specifics as you can understand. But just speaking in general, one can imagine that robots with lighting effects could be useful for entertainment effects or for wall games.
Lighting and games? Come on, Disney. A full-sized VertiGo would be just the thing for getaways in “Indiana Jones and the Temple on the Ceiling.”
Then again ... maybe we've seen this before?