A Spherical Flying Robot
Written by Harry Fairhead   
Saturday, 05 November 2011

Since we last saw it chasing people, the spherical flying machine has been gaining some serious appreciation. But there is still no news of if and when it will ever enter production.

We first covered the robot flying ball back in June 2011 but recently it has popped up again doing its PR stunts at a number of shows. 




A new video has also been produced, which goes a lot further to explain how it works. (The video below starts with an advert if you want an advert-free video see the next one):



The ball-robot was built by Technical research and Development Institute (TRDI),  the Japanese Ministry of Defense research department, from off-the-shelf parts, reportedly bought from the Akihabar electronics shopping center in Tokyo for about $1400. The design uses a single ducted fan and four vanes vector the thrust to make the whole thing stable without the use of a tail rotor or counter rotating blades.

While it it true that essentially all we have is a helicopter inside a ball-shaped cage, the design is innovative in the way that it uses the ducted fan and seems to be very stable. Currently its only payload seems to be a very small video camera.

The ball is 42cm in diameter and it weighs 350gm. It uses three gyro sensors, but there is no information on the control system. From the video it is clearly stable under a variety of conditions and its vectored thrust system can make it move at up to 60km per hour. To achieve this speed the sphere tips over so that its propellers are vertical  and provide horizontal  thrust while the control surfaces act as wings.

When it wants to land, or move more slowly, it rotates so that the propeler is horazontal and provides a vertical lift, while the wings now act as control surfaces. You have to admit that this is very clever, rather than just using propelor generated down thrust all of the time in the manner of a helicopeter. It can hover for eight minutes uing batteries.

Being round, it can land easily and can roll to get around on the ground. In this mode the control surfaces are used to steer it as it rolls.

The device was developed from a prototype plane that could fly in the usual manner and then stand up vertically to land like a helicopter. The problem was that controlling the landing was difficult until they hit on the idea of placing the plane inside a sphere.

Clearly it has obvious uses as a flying robotic platform and could even replace the ubiquitous quadrotor as the flying robot of choice in the near future - not to mention the potential as an xmas present!

You can see the device in action in a video from a Japanese TV station (TV Tokyo) where the ball appears to chase a female reporter inside a building. It may be a stunt for a TV show but it looks convincing.




Let's hope it makes it into production soon and ... oh yes, it does look a lot like the flying robot spheres that feature in so many SciFi movies...




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Last Updated ( Saturday, 05 November 2011 )