In the Transformers movies, the robots that morph into different shapes are autonomous, sentient beings -- which, of course, is part of their scary allure. The toys on which the movies are based are static. Their parts can be rearranged to turn them into animals, vehicles, or other machines, but that's as far as the transformation goes.
Now the hobbyist firm Brave Robotics has created a robot that morphs from a sleek, sporty car into a humanoid that looks like a tough customer. (Watch a video of the transformation below.)
This is version 7.2 of what's been an ongoing project since 2002, according to the timeline on the company's website. The production version of this remote-controlled robot comes with a WiFi video camera, which streams its data to a tablet PC for viewing. The robot also can shoot darts from its arms. The kit includes a controller, batteries, a charger, and motion-editing software. The robot is delivered preprogrammed.
This spring, EnGadget reported on a similar robot from JS Robotics that uses 22 servo motors.
The latest Brave Robotics offering, which debuted at Maker Faire Tokyo 2012, changes its shape in a few seconds. Earlier versions of the 1/12 scale robot transformed slowly and clunkily. By version 4, when the robot was in car mode, it could drive on its tires and turn by steering, according to the timeline. In its humanoid form, it could walk and looked humanoid.
The designers revamped it twice after that, solving different design problems each time. By version 6, they had come up with a new transforming system, and they were using a CNC milling machine to make parts. In the next few versions, they simplified the system, and it began to resemble its more elegant current version. With version 7.1, the designers began using a 3D printer, which they designed and built themselves, to make the robot's parts.
Designs of other robots have begun with hobbyist or toy versions. We wrote in August about the Phoenix autonomous flapping robotic birds built by the Robot Locomotion Group of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Those robots started as hobbyist radio-controlled ornithopters. The group's Agile Flight Project team designed them as a platform for investigating motor control of maneuverable flapping-wing flight in an outdoor setting.
The Brave Robotics robot, of course, isn't autonomous -- yet. According to the timeline, by 2030, the company wants to build a 1/1 scale transforming robot that anyone can ride; that robot will be able to think using a "super AI system." I suspect that's not a joke.
Absolutely outstanding demonstration of creativity, imagination and engineering. The complexity of synchronizing all those servo motors together is exceptional. To make a robot walk is challenging enough, but to create a design that can easily transition from both a car to walking robot is very tricky. Great job.
I agree - that video was just a blast to watch! Whatever else - it is a great way to get kids excited about engineering. It will be interesting to see how this transformer evolves over the next few years.
This is a neat development. Once again the toy/cartoon/movie/entertainment complex points us toward the future. At least there is probably already a significant market demand for this product when they are ready to release it.
Which is also a bit ironic - the American public is somewhat desensitized to the wonders of the engineering behind this type of technology because of their exposure to media creations such as the transformers - most won't have an understanding of the engineering marvel behind the design...
Nancy. How true. It's amazing to me how quickly consumer electronics as a class of technology has created a sense that technological development "just happens". On the one hand it makes incredible electronic tools available while on the other hand it creates a sense that these engineering marvels are easy to come by and will continue to be.
Actually it is probably the same in most endeavors, Scott. I am also a horsewoman and I frequently bring guests to ride my horse so that they can enjoy the experience of being on a horse and relax in a country setting. It amazes me how many people think you just get on and kick and the horse will respond - that it too is easy to come by. They have no idea how much time and effort it takes to create a relationship of mutual trust and respect with a horse and the training involved - they just see cowboys jump on and gallop off and they think they can do the same. Media has distorted so many areas of our lives - not just electronics...
Sometimes I pause and just wonder in amazement when I am using my oscilloscope. That I can actually see an electrical signal visually and measure it in nanosecond resolution - WOW! Something so simple - we forget how incredible that is when we use our equipment everyday...
Not much use as a toy because of cost/reliability issues.
Can't patent it when you have a whole shelf from ToysRus plus a bunch of TV action movies standing in for prior art. (Examiners office action - "claim 1 is obvious in view of episode 17 of "power rangers" and the toy I bought my 6 year old son last Easter")
Quite ingenious and it looks like a fun toy, but agree with jmiller that I'm not seeing alot of practical application for this. Are there any for the larger study and field of robotics, Ann? What could other researchers glean from this? Of course, there is nothing wrong for making something like this for the sake of selling an interesting product and, like others said, to encourage young people to explore science, math, robotics, engineering and other technical fields. Interesting story.
I'm surprised that no one has seen the potential here of a transforming vehicle.
Imagine if you would an injured person in a hazardous environment such as a mountainside where it would be difficult to access them. An ATV style vehicle could navigate the rough terrain where it could, transform itself to a climbing robot where wheels would be useless. Then when it reached the injured person transform to a triage robot tend to the immediate injuries, gather the patient and return them to where human emergency personnel can treat the patient.
I think Nancy's point is well taken--I would not have guessed this elegant transformer was possible without CGI, until I discovered this video. I agree with Battar--this is too pricey for a toy, but military apps immediately come to mind. I like RAWeng's idea of a transforming ATV
Ann-I'm not sure if you meant Nancy or Nadine when referencing the the toy comment but you'd be surprised at how high some consumers are willing to pay for a toy like this. It's not for ToysRUs. Like I said, it could be in Neiman Marcus next Christmas.
It think there are at least two more Transfromers movies in the making. There are definite co-branding possibiities or at least a cameo in the next movie.
Nadine, I did mean Nancy--I was replying to her second comment on this story, the one about movies and media and engineering expertise, not about toys. That said, I agree--maybe Neiman Marcus would carry this as a toy!
On second thought, since there are already branded toys--the static ones referred to at the beginning of the article--and since this thing costs several thousand dollars, I doubt if it's likely that this design will be co-branded with the movie. But it's certainly available for purchase by Neiman's-shopping parents.
I noticed that the timeline is suggesting that the full scale transforming vehicle will include occupants. I would have to assume that the transformation mode keeps the occupants in some kind of neutral position. However, even the CGI guys realized the impractibility of transforming with people inside their digital creations and decided to eject them out. Seems to me the transformation technology is a challenging engineering task, but now add human safety! Good luck!!!
It is quite amazing, that transformation. A slow motion presentation would have been even better, but at the speed that it changes it is a big accomplishment indeed. I did see what looks like a challenge with the vehicle steering, but that may just be the way that it was run for the video, and a tabletop is not the best place to show off a car.
But the details of how a full scale unit would drive will be very interesting indeed, and I look forward to that. Of course the full scale one will have a whole lot more obstacles to overcome before it is as "cool" as this model.
William, well said. I have a hard time imaging how they will successfully scale up the hardware to full-size operation by 2030. Unless they take advantage of some of the R&D work being done in self-assembling and self-reconfiguring robots primarily via software. I'll be covering that in an upcoming feature article. Perhaps that R&D work will have resulted in more macroscale hardware implementations by 2030, which will aid Brave Robotics' efforts.
Ann, probably the one other thing that we will need to scale up is our "suspension of disbelief". The biggest issue that I can see is not in the scaling of the materials, but in the fact that both weight and inertia also scale up, by a higher factor, I think, at least for the inertia. The full-scale transformers will need to move a bit slower, I guess.
Those are the same variables that concerned me with scaling up this technology. And it looks like most of the self-assembly/self-reconfiguring technology I'm investigating is done by researchers more interested in scaling down--way down, to nanoscale transformers.
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