As it turns out, robots with tails can fly through the air while maintaining
their orientation, and now other robotic platforms are testing out this
technique, thanks to a collaboration between UC Berkeley and the University of
The bot you see here is X-RHex Lite, or XRL for short. It should look a
little bit familiar (just like EduBot and SandBot) since it's based on RHex —
UPenn's original legged hexapod. Except this guy is a lighter and more modular
design. The new bit is, of course, the actuated tail which gives XRL the ability to
right itself in midair when dropped at weird angles, as well as a way of
maintaining its orientation if it runs off a ledge.
XRL tips the scales at 8.1 kilograms, making XRL about 60 times more
massive than the original Tailbot. Note the comparison pic below.
There's a huge amount of potential for mobile robots with tails, and XRL
marks a transition point between proof-of-concept and potentially operational
platform. XRL is also
particularly suited to
midair shenanigans due
to its six springy legs
which act like excellent
shock absorbers (as long
as the robot lands on them the right way).
Robots are intimidating and starting from scratch with them is
hard, no matter what age you are. You usually have to learn both
hardware and software at the same time to get a robot to do anything
cool, and for people without a background in either of these things
surmounting that initial learning curve can be scary.
BirdBrain Technologies — a spinoff from Carnegie Mellon's
Robotics Institute — has just released a new DIY kit called
Hummingbird that promises to make building a robot as easy (and
affordable) as possible.
As you'd expect, the Hummingbird kit involves both a hardware
component and a software component. Everything's included, with a clearly marked board and color coded wiring. It's also nifty
that the wires just snap in and out — no soldering required — although soldering is not that hard and building simple robots
is a great excuse to learn how.
On the software side, the kit comes with a Java-based drag-and-drop visual programming interface that doesn't require any
previous experience at all, and anyone with a passing obsession with their iPhone should be able to get it working in no time.
Although this is called a kit, there's not instructions that tell you what to build. You use your imagination and some
creativity to build a robot of your very own. You might need some additional structural components (like cardboard), but
beyond that all it takes is a good idea to make whatever you want (which is what's so great about robots in general).
The Hummingbird kit is intended for kids of ages 10 and up, although it's not a bad way for people of any age to get
familiar with making hardware and software work together. At $199 each, it might be a little more realistic to see the kit
become part of an educational curriculum as opposed to something that kids will be able to buy for themselves. If you've got a
budding roboticist in your family, though, we'd say this is probably a good investment.
26 SERVO 09.2012