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Ball-shaped robot debuts

June 21, 2013
Courtesy of Universidad Politécnica de Madrid
and World Science staff

A new ro­bot that’s basically just a roll­ing ball has been tested and seems to work fi­ne, re­search­ers say.

RoSphere in its field "habitat." (Courtesy UPM)


The developers de­ployed the lit­tle ma­chine, dubbed Ro­Sphere, in­to crop fields where it rolled around and took mea­sure­ments of soil mois­ture us­ing de­tec­tors on its sur­face.

The con­cept comes from the Ro­botics and Cy­ber­net­ics Re­search Group at the Ma­drid Pol­y­tech­nic Uni­vers­ity, which aimed to de­vel­op ro­bots able to nav­i­gate un­even ter­rain. 

Ro­Sphere rolls it­self and is “in­her­ently sta­ble,” the re­search­ers said. 

RoSphere's "guts." (Courtesy UPM)


How does a ball move by it­self? Be­cause its in­ner ma­chinery per­forms the equiv­a­lent task to a ham­ster run­ning in an ex­er­cise wheel. The key is shift­ing the cen­ter of weight, or mass, of the sys­tem.

Re­search­ers used the device to meas­ure en­vi­ron­men­tal varia­bles on rows of crops. They also tested it in shared spaces with peo­ple to check whether it could safely in­ter­act.

It “turned out to be friendly and harm­less,” the re­search­ers wrote. “En­durance of the ro­bot can be con­sid­ered as fair.” 

The find­ings were pub­lished in this year’s first is­sue of the jour­nal In­dus­t­ri­al Ro­bot.


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A new robot that just looks like a rolling ball has been tested and seems to work fine, researchers say. Scientists deployed the little machine, dubbed RoSphere, into crop fields where it rolled around and took measurements of soil moisture using an instrument fitted on its surface. The findings were published in this year’s first issue of Industrial Robot: An International Journal. The concept comes from the Robotics and Cybernetics Research Group at the Madrid Polytechnic University, which aimed to develop robots able to navigate uneven terrain. RoSphere is a single ball or sphere that rolls itself and is “inherently stable,” the researchers said. How does a ball move by itself? Because its inner machinery performs the equivalent task to a hamster running in an exercise wheel. The key is shifting the center of weight, or mass, of the system—and the ball turns. Researchers used it to measure environmental variables on rows of crops, where they said the shape was suitable for rolling and gathering information to monitoring the precision farming techniques. The robot was also tested on shared spaces with people to verify that it can safely interact with people. It “turned out to be friendly and harmless,” the researchers wrote. “Endurance of the robot can be considered as fair.”