Omni-Crawler Tracked Robot Drives In All Directions 11076
A new technology in Tracked Robots, by Osaka University
A simple Robotic Mechanism which can easily move towards all directions
At Innovation Japan 2011, a research group from Osaka University presented Omni-Crawler, a crawler that can be driven in all directions. The group also presented the Omni-Ball, a ball-shaped, omni-directional wheel the principals of which are implemented in the crawler.
“Our current crawler mechanism is designed to move sideways as well. With a conventional crawler, if you position it to enter a narrow space, the crawler has to turn round repeatedly. But this crawler can move sideways as well, so it’s easy to fine-tune its movements. Ordinarily, there’s a lot of energy loss due to turning, but this crawler can be positioned immediately by moving to the side just a little. So we think this crawler can greatly minimize energy loss as well.”
This crawler mechanism utilizes Omni-Ball, a ball-shaped, omni-directional wheel developed by the research group. In Omni-ball, two hemispherical wheels face each other on either side of an axle. In this structure, the two hemispheres can rotate both independently and together as a sphere.
“By rotating the axle dynamically using a motor, we can effectively combine the direction of the driving force and the direction in which the structure moves as a caster. A moving object with at least three of these wheels can generate a driving force in all directions.”
Another prototype application for this crawler mechanism, being co-developed with JAXA, is a planetary exploration robot that combines three crawlers in three dimensions. There are also prototypes of a robot hand with crawlers attached to the fingertips, and a gripper that can continuously pick up soft objects without deforming them.
“Currently, we’re considering Omni-Ball as a point, and building a crawler mechanism with Omni-Balls in a line. And next, we’re thinking of a planar object that can move in all directions. That, too, could be used not just as a mobile robot; it could be attached to the end of a robot gripper to turn gripped objects in all directions. We’re trying to build a structure that keeps the gripped object flat, in a stable state. An application for this could be holding organs in abdominal surgery, so the stomach, for example, could be handled using just the gripping end. The orientation of the gripped object can be changed using just the end, so we think this could be useful as a robot hand in surgery.”
Simple robots known as crawlers have become very important in specialized tasks that require moving extremely heavy objects. Robots that are similar to crawlers even are used in planetary exploration. The downside to crawlers has always been a lack of fluid mobility, such as sideways motion. This means that since the crawlers are limited in their directional field it can take quite a while to complete tasks with them. Luckily researchers at Japan’s Osaka University have finally created an innovative new crawler that uses a technology called Omni-Ball to add substantially improved mobility.
So what exactly is the Omni-Ball all about? This omni-directional wheel allows the prototype battery-powered remote-controlled Omni-Crawler to travel in any direction desired and allows increased efficiency when using a crawler. Although the Omni-Crawler isn’t the first concept for a multi-directional robotic crawler, it still is very unique. Unlike similar concepts, this crawler utilizes two cylindrical crawlers which borrow properties from the team’s two-piece ball-shaped wheels. The Omni-Balls consist of two matching wheels connected to one another on a short axle. This allows rotation independently or in unison.
According to its developers, there is a lot of potential for this crawler beyond conventional use. The Omini-Crawler is considered a starting point for a variety of related projects including a crawler that can combine three crawler wheels for planetary exploration. There are even prototypes of a robot hand with Omni-ball crawlers attached to the fingertips and a gripper that can easily grab soft objects without damaging them. The developers even dream of a world where these omini-ball based devices could even be used for holding organs in surgery and other surgical related purposes.
The Omni-Crawler and the technology behind it certainly look to point to a future ruled by robots. This may be an exaggeration, but nonetheless is clear that robotic technology is quickly advancing and becoming more commonplace in daily life.
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