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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Amphibious Aquapod might be the clumsiest robot ever (video)

It may look like nothing more than a random piece of seaside trash, but that ugly little creature you're staring at is actually known as Aquapod -- an amphibious robot that crawls around by falling over itself. Literally. Developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota's Center for Distributed Robotics, Aquapod uses two carbon fiber arms and a servo motor system to somersault itself around, like an inebriated horseshoe crab. It's certainly not the swiftest of bots, but this guy's durable enough to move across rough terrains and, per its nickname, is completely waterproof and in full control of its buoyancy. Creators Andrew Carlson and Nikos Papanikolopoulos say their $2,000 brainchild could one day be used to monitor fish populations and conduct underwater experiments -- or to simply scare the bejesus out of beach-going children. Video after the break.

Aquapod might not be the fastest robot ever, but it has no trouble tumbling over slippery surfaces, through sand, and towards skeptical ducks. The offset arms help to give it more degrees of freedom to escape from vegetation and other obstacles, trading a little bit of efficiency for increased robustness.
The general intent is for Aquapod to be used in water monitoring or aquatic sensor deployment, where bunches of them can team up to float down rivers, sinking and floating and deploying sensors and taking measurements as they go. It would even be possible to stick one underneath an iced-over lake to monitor fish populations during the winter, where the robot could move around by "inverse tumbling" on the underside of the ice while upside-down.
Next up will be to work in solar power along with autonomous control for long-duration research. Even without any of that stuff the robot is still a very promising platform, though, since it's estimated to cost only about $2,000 to build.
Aquapod was presented in an ICRA paper entitled "Aquapod: Prototype Design of an Amphibious Tumbling Robot," by Andrew Carlson and Nikos Papanikolopoulos from the Center for Distributed Robotics at the University of Minnesota.



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