3 Unique Approaches to Robot Locomotion

Robots that are free to move around their environment generally use wheels, tracks, or multiple legs to get around. But those aren't the only methods. Just like animals, some robots have very unconventional ways of moving.

Photo Caption: Hajime 43 is a bipedal robot that stands 13 feet tall and weighs more than 600 lbs. To operate Hajime, a human crawls into its belly and uses a "master-slave" control scheme involving a small model replica of the robot. (Credit: CNET)

When constructing a robot, you need to give serious thought to how it will move around its environment. In the case of many industrial robots, this means moving an actuator within a fixed window while the base stays secured to one place on the floor. Robots that are more free to move in their environment generally use wheels, tracks, or multiple legs that are carefully programmed to balance the moving ‘bot.

But these aren’t the only methods robots use to get around. Just like animals, some robots have very unconventional ways of moving through their environment.

Omni-wheel Robots Slide in Any Direction

Wheels on a robot can operate like a car, but much of the time they operate by using motors on the left and right side that can turn at different rates. This allows for forwards, backwards, and turning motions, but what if you’d like your robot to slide left or right without having to turn first?

An omni-wheel setup takes care of this. Using a type of wheel that has several rollers attached perpendicular to the main wheel, when all wheels are turning in one direction, the robot can turn left or right. When the wheels are turned in a coordinated fashion, however, a robot can slide forwards, backwards, left, or right without even turning its body.

These robots come in three- and four-wheel designs, but could likely be made with more wheels if needed. As neat as this is, it’s certainly not a new idea. The video below was uploaded in 2006, and the robot was built in 2004. As seen with this “Palm Pilot Robot,” the idea was around in 2001 or earlier.

Triple Track For Pipe Inspection

Gravity keep humans grounded, so our two legs are all we need to keep us upright. Support from the ground applies to most robots, too, but if you have a pipe system that needs to be inspected, orientation when climbing vertically needs a much different locomotion paradigm.

This triple-track robot from Inuktun fills this need with an innovative system of three tracks aligned radially around an inspection robot, allowing it to grip the inside of a pipe at intervals of 120 degrees. The remotely-operated vehicle inspects pipe segments of up to 600 feet using LED lighting and a camera system. Each track can expand independently, allowing it to traverse pipes of different sizes and navigate bends. It’s even waterproof.

Although I didn’t get a quote on purchasing one of these, a beautiful piece of technology like this is likely not in the ballpark of what an average consumer can afford. On the other hand, Inuktun, which has the excellent slogan of “Craftsmanship in high technology,” does rent their robots.
Perhaps if you can rent one for your child’s next birthday party aboard your private yacht!

Huge Biped Robot Operated by a Tiny Model

If the fact that the Hajime 43 bipedal robot stands 13 feet tall and weighs more than 600 lbs isn’t intriguing enough, its unique control system certainly puts it over the top. As shown around 1:20 in the video below, a human literally crawls into its belly, then operates it using a “master-slave” control scheme involving a small model replica of the robot.

As shown, when the pilot twists the model’s head, the robot reciprocates that movement, sending feedback to a monitor in front of him. Arms can be operated in a similar manner, and although not shown walking until the second video, one would hope that the legs are operated in a similar manner. Sort of like a robotic Voodoo doll.


Walking for this robot is accomplished in a similar manner to the BOB robot, where weight appears to shift from one leg to another. As of now in its prototype form, it’s tethered while walking. The eventual goal, however, is to make a robot 59 feet tall, well over 3 times the size of this already monstrous model!

About the Author

Jeremy S. Cook · Jeremy is an engineer with 10 years experience and has a BSME from Clemson University. A lifelong maker and experimenter, he now writes about technology and builds anything that comes into his mind!
Contact Jeremy S. Cook: jscook55@gmail.com  ·  View More by Jeremy S. Cook.
Follow Jeremy on Twitter.


Log in to leave a Comment

Article Topics

News · How Tos · Media · Videos · All Topics

Editors’ Picks

Top 10 AI & Robot Stories of 2017
2018 is shaping up to be a massive year for automation. But first,...

Robots are Learning to Pick up Objects Like Babies
UC Berkeley has developed a technique that enables robots to complete tasks...

Self-Driving Taxis Giving Rides During CES 2018
Aptiv and Lyft have teamed up to give CES 2018 attendees self-driving taxi...

Roombas Will Help Clean up Your Home’s Weak WiFi
iRobot's top-tier Roomba robot vacuums will soon be able to sweep your...