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Robot Balances on a Single Spherical Wheel 211

dalangalma writes "Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute have developed a new kind of robot called the Ballbot that balances on a steel ball. Using a mechanism similar to a ball mouse, the Ballbot uses rollers to drive its single, spherical wheel and balance in place or glide around the room. The promise of such dynamically stable robots is that they can be much taller without having to have a wide base, making them much more suitable for working with humans. They are also much more agile, since they can be pushed out of the way easily without falling over. You can read the press release or check out the project's web page when it recovers from traffic."
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Robot Balances on a Single Spherical Wheel

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  • translation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by McDrewbie ( 530348 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @10:57PM (#15893076)
    "single spherical wheel" = a ball
  • by mgabrys_sf ( 951552 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @11:01PM (#15893088) Journal
    re:"The promise of such dynamically stable robots is that they can be much taller without having to have a wide base, making them much more suitable for working with humans. "

    Until said humans goes down a flight of stairs.

    *Oof*
    *Bounce*
    *Expensive crashey noises*

    At this rate we'll have-em screaming "exterminate" in no time.

    (and yes I know post 2005 Daleks can do everything and go everywhere - I'm talking pre-video-game dalek)
    • by Kennric ( 22093 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @11:59PM (#15893268) Homepage
      With a suitable suspension I don't see why they would not do fine on stairs. If the balancing algorithm is good, it should recover fine on each step. A little laser rangefinding could even allow it to know it was going down stairs and adjust accordingly. Certainly a dynamicly balanced bot would fair better than a 4-wheeler going down the same stairs. If I can ride a motorcyle down the stairs, my new robotic biroid overlords should not have a problem.
    • by LionKimbro ( 200000 ) on Saturday August 12, 2006 @04:56AM (#15893708) Homepage
      I think this technology could be adapted to human like motion.

      Turn the ball on the ground into an ankle. That is, put a foot/pod beneath the ball, and the robot balances itself above the foot/pod.

      Then it should be stable enough to take a step with the other foot/pod.

      I'm thinking: "The reason you can't put two of these side-by-side, joined at the top, and make it walk up stairs, is because there's such a sudden change in it's weight distribution when it picks up one foot. You need something to be stable."

      I started asking myself, "How do people do it?", ... and realized that we have these big flat things underneath us: our feet. And that we might balance ourselves using our various joints.

      If you stack up 3 of these things on top of each other, and synchronize their intelligence, can they stand up on top of one another? That's what I want to know now.
    • Of course the point of the article is that, if we can balance a robot the size of a man a single ball, we can probably make an extremely stable two-leged robot with small feet (and not weighting half as much as the body of the robot) of the same size.
    • Or until their batteries run low.

      Hopefully they'll have a "power-low" sensor that will alert them to extend training-wheels or some such...
  • Segway on a ball! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by toybuilder ( 161045 )
    Cool! I'd love to see if they can adapt this to a Segway-like transporter!
  • Familiar? (Score:4, Informative)

    by The MAZZTer ( 911996 ) <megazzt@NoSpaM.gmail.com> on Friday August 11, 2006 @11:06PM (#15893103) Homepage
    It's been a loooong time since I watched the show, but didn't the Jetson's have a robot like this?
  • Weebles... (Score:5, Funny)

    by RyanFenton ( 230700 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @11:08PM (#15893114)
    Weebles wobble, but they don't take over humanity.
    Other jokes could involve roll-on deodorant, or those kid's inflatable boxing dummies that flip back up when you hit them.

    Neat design, really. I think a lot of people's first urge would be to try and push the robot over though, which like the old Weebles, may produce that same herky-jerky roll back to stability. I wonder how much gunk would build up in the mouse-wheel of those things though - be hard to turn it over to clean with that production model. Have to have some kind of door in it to clean without taking it out.

    Ryan Fenton
    • Re:Weebles... (Score:2, Interesting)

      In a world that brought us self-cleaning ovens among other gadgets, I would assume that mankind is intelligent enough to build a self-cleaning spherical-wheeled robot. Then again, we all know what happens when you assume things...
  • Killer app? (Score:5, Funny)

    by ChozCunningham ( 698051 ) <(slashdot.org) (at) (chozcunningham.com)> on Friday August 11, 2006 @11:10PM (#15893117) Homepage
    Shrink this down and fill it with ink. An automatic pen! Well, it sounds good on paper...
  • Um, ok, so what? Is there a lack of robotic performers at the circus?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 11, 2006 @11:18PM (#15893139)
    welcome our big balled overlords
  • by grammar fascist ( 239789 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @11:20PM (#15893144) Homepage
    They are also much more agile, since they can be pushed out of the way easily without falling over.

    You know, I've always hated that whenever I try to push a robot out of the way, I fall over.

    This feature will be a boon to senior citizens especially.
  • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @11:23PM (#15893157)

    The promise of such dynamically stable robots is that they can be much taller without having to have a wide base, making them much more suitable for working with humans

    Huh? How does thinner = autmatically "much more suitable"? I just don't get it. We're used to working with people, and that extends to their personal space, which is substantially larger than the person. Who says that human/robot 'synergy' has anything to do with how fat the robot is?

    Nevermind that all that active movement to keep standing upright means lots of battery drain, and irritating/distracting movement to said humans. We find coworkers that tap pens on their desks annoying, but they think this will 'fly'?

    Oh, when the battery runs out of juice, or a motor (or its controller) goes dead- hilarity ensues...

    • by Mark Programmer ( 228585 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @11:32PM (#15893189) Homepage
      FTA:

      "When Ballbot is not in operation, it stands in place on three retractable legs."

      So 'nervous balance' motions won't be necessary, one could assume.

      As for the thinness issue: it is precisely the personal space issue that makes a thin robot useful in a crowded public space. Our perception of personal space factors in the personal space of the other person. So a robot that is as wide as one's 'personal space bubble' causes people interacting with it to give it even more room. The thin chassis on this robot alleviates that problem by only taking up an amount of space roughly equivalent to the human torso, so that a person's "personal space guess" comes out accurately.
    • I suspect the movement to keep standing up can be minimized to being indetectable. The quicker and more accurately it can compensate, the less the motion has to be.
    • Suitable because human shaped, so able to navigate our environment (better han a 'traditional' short, wide, wheeled 'bot anyway). J.
    • Huh? How does thinner = autmatically "much more suitable"? I just don't get it. We're used to working with people, and that extends to their personal space, which is substantially larger than the person. Who says that human/robot 'synergy' has anything to do with how fat the robot is?

      Find a wheelchair. Try to navigate through your daily routine. Ever notice how most human spaces aren't designed for a wide chassis? Imagine if ''everybody'' was in a wheelchair. Try passing the 'slow walker' (you know

    • when the battery runs out of juice, or a motor (or its controller) goes dead- hilarity ensues... hummm inherently unstable computer controlled ballbot ballancing on an insulated urethane covered ball, dry winter day and static electricity; the possibilities for amusement are endless.
  • by andykuan ( 522434 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @11:24PM (#15893159) Homepage
    I vaguely recall there being an alien race in Piers Anthony's Cluster series that balanced and moved on a single large ball. Anyone remember the name of the race? It'd be wonderfully nerdy if the CMU folks renamed their robot after these aliens. I also vaguely recall these aliens having sex by going around and around in a circle rolling continuously over a trail of slime. Maybe the CMU robots can do that too...
  • by snafu109 ( 852770 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @11:31PM (#15893182)

    Using a mechanism similar to a ball mouse

    Pfft... Let me know when they've developed a mechanism similar to a laser mouse.

  • Technological Threat (Score:3, Informative)

    by MsGeek ( 162936 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @11:41PM (#15893222) Homepage Journal
    "Technological Thret" is an 1988 animated short [imdb.com] directed by Bill Kroyer. It centers around the introduction of an office robot that rolls around on a single ball in the bottom of its structure. One of the interesting little details about the short was that the robots were first animated in a computer, then rotoscoped in 2D to fit with the rest of the 2D short. The bot in the short didn't look *that much* like the Ballbot, but just enough to bring it to mind.
  • Ballbot in action (Score:5, Informative)

    by novus ordo ( 843883 ) on Friday August 11, 2006 @11:52PM (#15893252) Journal
    There are some videos [youtube.com] available on youtube, in case you want to spare them some bandwidth.
  • "You can read the press release or check out the project's web page when it recovers from traffic."

    Wait, so you mean it was slashdotted //before// it was posted to Slashdot?

    Slashdot must be sliding into irrelevance...

    That's right: SLASHDOT IS DYING...
  • by I Like Pudding ( 323363 ) on Saturday August 12, 2006 @12:09AM (#15893295)
    This thing should star in a 1960s Japanese movie.

    *speaking into wrist communicator* Ballbot! TRANSFORM!
  • Very nice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday August 12, 2006 @12:18AM (#15893317) Homepage

    That's a nice system. There are some annoying limitations, though. It's tough to change the orientation of the robot, although you can handle that if you have a rotational joint further up so you can rotate the torso. Small diameter balls have the same problems as small diameter wheels - it's easy to get stuck in small depressions. That's why the Segway has such big wheels. And driving a sphere is always a tough problem mechanically. Most of the solutions have trouble with dirt accumulating on the drive wheels, which is why optical mice have replaced ball mice. It's possible to build a spherical electric motor [uspto.gov], and that might be the way to go if this concept turns out to be useful.

    It's good to see all this activity in self-balancing systems again, having worked on this around 1994-1995, and seen others working on it in the 1980s. Today, you can buy so much of what you need off the shelf, like good INS units. We used to waste too much time building custom stuff.

    • It's tough to change the orientation of the robot, although you can handle that if you have a rotational joint further up so you can rotate the torso.


      Hmm, how about a couple of internal counter-rotating flywheels.... spin them both up simultaneously, and then whenever you want to turn the robot, apply a bit of brakes to just one of them.

    • A biped with one of two of these balls instead of feet might be interesting.
  • I'm curious to how far can it fall but still be able to not recover itself. Look at the robot, it seems to be built where it can't be tilted too much, but having one of those bust up that Michael Jackson move (where he tils and awesome touches the floor and comes back up) would be neat! Or it could be like one of this bobbing clowns where you can punch it down, but it'll always stand back up.
  • by Wilson_6500 ( 896824 ) on Saturday August 12, 2006 @01:26AM (#15893433)
    With the advent of robots that are immune to pushing, the eternal question becomes more relevant than ever: do you have stairs in your house?
    • As long as you've got a pusher robot, you should be protected.
    • This robot is only immune to pushing when the external environment is of the proper type. For example, if you push the robot when it's inside a space that is too close for recovery, or if you push it into a wall, then it cannot recover and simply falls over. A power glitch, a software bug ... and you had better hope there are backup systems or else you have yourself and hole in the drywall and a bowling ball. I assume the inner working of that thing are for the purpose of balancing itself, which is a neat c
  • by viking2000 ( 954894 ) on Saturday August 12, 2006 @02:13AM (#15893500)
    In the videos they have threaded a big innertube over the structure, presumably to cushion the fall every time it tipped over.

    Since the purpose of this structure is to interact with humans, They should just install big inflatable boobs and ass instead.

  • ...had they used an earth ball. Not the dinky ones which are startig to pop up, but the ones which showed up at jugging festivals (alongside torches, unis, antique big wheeled bikes, etc..

    The balls would have much higher centers of gravity (making the balance extremely easy) and fine tune the machinery required to remain balanced. From there, they could work their way into smaller and smaller balls, tweaking their materials (hardware & software) to a point of where it could handle pretty small piece
  • Amazing. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tomato ( 66378 )
    This is the first time I've posted to Slashdot in nearly 5 years.

    That robot in the videos is truly amazing - graceful, simple, and harmonious.

    This is what we need - systems that co-operate with humans, can be pushed around, and stick to their own personal space.

    We need more beauty and grace in the world, not less.

    I work in technology, but I also study feng shui, and that robot has it in abundance.
  • A real life 'Bigweld'
  • Seems to me there are two energy disadvantages. One, a regular wheel can have bearings and coast quite well. A single ball -- don't see how. Seems to me that you want the weight to be supported as close to top dead center as possible, because as the support points move towards the edge, you have more stress of the weight trying to slide down and outwards, which means more friction against the ball. Imagine worst case, where the weight is supported at .0001 degrees above the horizontal point ... it would
  • They are also much more agile, since they can be pushed out of the way easily without falling over.

    Don't they teach elementary physics anymore?

    "If you push something hard enough, it will fall over!" - Fudd's First Law of Opposition.

    Brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department.

    What did I do with that boxcar of industrial coke?
  • by bugg ( 65930 ) on Saturday August 12, 2006 @09:29AM (#15894101) Homepage
    Ah, Carnegie Mellon. My alma matter.

    Knowing the folks at the robotics institute it'll be about 2 years before we see the army testing out a prototype robot that balances on a ball .... and then uses the ball to crush infantry while launching missiles.

    CMU has a lot of great projects like that. Gladiator, Crusher... I know that most individual robot builders mean well, and I have friends who are anti-war at the RI, but seriously, look at who is actually demanding this technology and where it's being used. It's not being used to house the poor.

  • I remember seeing a DSP demo in probably 1992 where two upright sticks were joined in the middle by a pair of hinges, one allowing the "z axis" stick to bend in half in the xz plane, the other to bend in half along the yz plane. The DSP got feedback from a mercury switch in each of the x and y directions, indicating whether the top stick was balanced in that direction, and opening/closing the respective hinge to compensate for being off-balance.

    That stick just stood up straight on its end, wobbling ever so

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