Sometimes engineers are full of useful, innovative ideas- and sometimes they can just be rather imaginative. Hence Cubli, the not so useful, but certainly innovative robotic cube designed to simply balance on a single point.
The robot was designed by a team of engineers at ETH in Zürich, Switzerland. The university has also been responsible for creating a wide range of dynamic systems including juggling machines and a unique drone that uses electric jets for propulsion. The name is derived from the Swiss word for ‘cube’- hence the name ‘Cubli’.
[Image Source: ETH]
Cubli is a 15×15×15 cm cube designed with the sole purpose to balance on a corner. The robot uses a unique 3-D inverted pendulum system that enables the robot to jump and balance. The system functions by rotating wheels at high speed to create angular momentum, forcing the cube up on an edge. The reaction wheels are mounted on three of the faces on the cube. Changing the velocities allows the cube to be rotated and tilted in any direction, with the added possibility to make it jump. Spinning the reaction wheels and forcing them to stop instantaneously creates a moment of inertia directed upwards and forces the cube to jump up without assistance.
Using the combined abilities of jumping and altering direction, the Cubli is able to ‘walk’. The project began as a one-dimensional prototype that only had two directions it could move- jumping up and falling sideways. However, the experimental version proved useful and was extended into three-space, bring Cubli to where it is today. Now, the cube has a whole range of features that enable it to perform some peculiar tasks. When pushed, the cube can even resist the motion and by using an intelligent algorithm, it can correct the movement and continue to stand.
Although the cube does not have any practical applications as is, perhaps the technology that went into the design could help further develop ongoing humanoid robotic developments. Dynamic balancing is one of the most complicated challenges of dynamic movement. However, everyday engineers improve upon designs, enabling robots to walk on uneven surfaces, and cubes to balance on a corner. We can only imagine what the next innovation will be, but it certainly will be fascinating.