When I say “robotics”, do you think “Disney”? Probably not. Names like Boston Dynamics and Softbank come to mind, most likely. Disney is hard at work in the field, though. This time around, through cooperation with ETH Zurich, they’ve created a small bot known as VertiGo. The VertiGo robot has wheels, but it’s powered by propellers rather than motors driving the wheels like a typical ground vehicle. In another departure from a typical ground vehicle, tilting these propellers in just the right way allows the VertiGo bot to climb walls.
VertiGo has a super-light, mostly 3D-printed body. The central base plate is made of ultra-light carbon fiber. This light build allows just two propellers to power the whole thing, letting it zip from place to place fast and almost weightlessly. The coolest part of that, however, is the way it gets itself onto and up walls. The back propeller is turned toward the wall, adhering the robot to the surface, while the front propeller brings the robot forward. This makes the front wheels rear up onto the wall and up the little robot goes. To zoom around on the wall, the bot simply keeps one propeller providing upward lift at all times while the other one steers. It’s easy to imagine this thing getting knocked off course or sailing into the sky by accident on a particularly windy day, but the concept is incredible.
Disney says that the design is made to explore ways to make it easier for bots and drones to navigate urban and indoor spaces where room to move is generally at a premium and being a small thing moving quietly along the floor is a terrible idea. This is only a concept design for now, but future bots using these principles in different, more complex and smaller or larger designs may end up playing roles such as covert military recon, delivery or just a cool toy. These principles could also be applied to small robot companions in the future, with AI technology coming dangerously close these days to being able to think and feel just like a human.