SERVO 10.2014 15
LEAPING LIZARD CARS!
Cars are pretty much incapable of acrobatics. However,
there is good news! Some roboticists are trying to solve this.
Following up on some work from last year to put actuated
tails on ground vehicles (inspired by other tailed robots like
UC Berkeley's Tailbot), researchers from the University of Cape
Town in South Africa have put a tail on a small R/C car and
gotten it to do a barrel roll.
According to their website:
Inspired by the acrobatics of the lizard, we present a novel robot platform capable of performing
a barrel roll from a ramp. The system is modeled using Euler-Lagrange mechanics, followed by
controller design and numerical simulation. A robotic platform is then designed to perform the
experiments. Finally, we show that purely by the use of the actuated tail, the robot can rapidly
perform a 360 degree roll rotation in under a second.
According to the IEEE Spectrum website, it
has been announced that Unbounded Robotics —
a spin-off of Willow Garage that developed the
UBR-1 mobile manipulator — is currently "in the
process of shutting down." The UBR-1 is no
longer for sale.
Recently, a source (who asked not to be
named) forwarded IEEE an email from Unbounded
Robotics CEO Melonee Wise. The source received
the message after requesting a quote for a UBR-1
"Unfortunately, Unbounded Robotics is in the
process of shutting down due to issues with our Willow
Garage spin-off agreement that prevents us from
raising series A investment. Unbounded Robotics is no
longer selling the UBR-1."
This is startling, and more than a little
confusing. Spin-offs can have contentious relationships with their parent organizations, but it's not often you see an
abrupt shut-down like it appears to be the case here. Unbounded launched to great acclaim by the robotics
community, and it was ready to produce a capable, affordable, and highly desirable robot. It appears from the
statement above that Willow Garage apparently prevented Unbounded — a company that it helped to birth —
from raising funds. There was a lot of interest from investors in Unbounded when it won a start-up competition at
RoboBusiness 2013. It appears something in the agreement between the two companies has kept investors away.
Without hearing from both sides, we won't know for sure what the disagreement was all about. We're hoping
that the full story will eventually come out, but it may take a while. The only thing we know for sure is that this
development might have devastating effects for the robotics research community. An affordable mobile manipulator
like the UBR-1 is something that is desperately needed to help solve problems relating to getting robots doing
useful things in human environments.
Image courtesy of Amir Patel.