Back in the day, it used to be a big deal for RC cars to climb a steep incline. These days, robotic cars that can flat out climb walls will soon become the norm.
Disney Research Zurich and Swiss university ETH Zurich have been working on a robotic device called VertiGo. Their concept is a marriage of drone and robotic car technologies that enables VertiGo to resist gravity and shuttle alongside a wall.
What Makes It Tick
On the ground, the VertiGo robot can spin in and out of zero-degree turns with ease. It leverages eight actuators, all of which are individually controlled.
The robotic car includes an on-board computer that allows operators to drive the vehicle in a manner similar to RC cars. It uses data from a six-axis inertial measurement unit and a pair of front-mounted infrared distance sensors that enables the robot's brains to estimate its orientation in a given space.
"Based on this attitude information, the controller then devises the best positions for all actuators to achieve a desired user input," states the prototype's whitepaper. "By transitioning from the ground to a wall and back again, VertiGo extends the ability of robots to travel through urban and indoor environments."
When it runs into a brick wall, or any other vertical barrier, the VertiGo robot uses a pair of tiltable propellers to give it the lift it needs to make the 90-degree transition.
"One pair of wheels is steerable, and each propeller has two degrees of freedom for adjusting the direction of thrust," the whitepaper states.
See the VertiGo shrug off the challenge of a wall in the video below, then read some more abut its potential applications.
What It Can Be Used For
For many people, the first and most obvious of possible applications for the VertiGo robot may be military reconnaissance. Strap a camera on this little thing and play Spider-Man with it.
But there are other possible use cases for a robot that can navigate the sides of walls with speed and agility comparable to ground traversal. Disney Research is interested in augmented reality, virtual reality, sports visualization, image capture and, of course, play.
Imagine zipping across a floor and then a ceiling, viewing the action from a camera feed that's been peppered with digital objects that serve as both objectives and obstacles. Or, imagine a drone that can fly across a space, land on the side of a wall and then drive around on it.
And with rights to "Star Wars" intellectual property in its control, Disney could turn the prototype into a toy themed after the still-growing sci-fi franchise. Sales from Disney movie-themed toys are a huge moneymaker for the company, especially when it puts out the right animated and live-action movies to capture the imagination of kids young and old.
At the start of 2015, the NPD Group estimated that Disney's "Frozen" generated over half a billion dollars in toy sales.
"'Frozen' was the big news story in the toy industry in 2014," said Juli Lennett, president of the Toys division at The NPD Group. "It wasn't due to that one hot toy that was a category killer, but because of the varied breadth and sheer number of toys. 'Frozen' had over 300 different items on store shelves this year."