Helium Could be Key to Balancing Two-Legged Robots

Shelby Rogers

Robotics consistently pushes the boundaries, especially as machines regularly become more complex and humanlike.

However, like young toddlers learning to walk, they struggle with balancing on two legs. The robots developed with two legs often fall down. Even things as simple as children's toys can only walk a few feet before tumbling forward.

The Buoyancy Assisted Lightweight Legged Unit looks to change that. BALLU is filled with helium and looks like a balloon on skinny chicken legs. However, the helium keeps the body upright to avoid falls.

UCLA's Dennis Hong with the school's Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory created BALLU.

To get creative ideas, sometimes we ask ourselves crazy, ridiculous questions,” Hong said in an interview with IEEE. “Oftentimes these lead to crazy, ridiculous answers, which lead to ingenious ideas.” He added: “We asked ourselves, ‘What if we could change the direction of gravity?’ and this led to the concept of BALLU.”

ballu1[Image Courtesy of RoMeLa]

However, BALLU doesn't hold much weight. The body doesn't float on its own and requires assistance to support itself. Don't look for the system to start carrying around heavy equipment anytime soon.

"Think of this as a walking information device — walk around the house to check on things, take air quality samples in a plant, walking information kiosk, etc.," wrote Hong.

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ballu3[Image Courtesy of RoMeLa]

Hong and grad student Sepehr Ghassemi announced they're also working on a quadruped version of BALLU. The four-legged robot can carry more than its bipedal version and has an articulated upper body (rather than one silver 'balloon'). Hong also told IEEE they're working on getting BALLU to climb and jump over tall structures and maintain balance.

ballu2[Image Courtesy of RoMeLa]

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Despite its lightweight body, BALLU does leave room for innovative applications. Could BALLU systems be added to the upper 'bodies' of larger robots in order to help stabilize them? Could the system even serve as a sensor to aid in bipedal balance?

Via IEEE International Conference on Humanoid Robots

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