Star-Wars-inspired monocycle Ringbot uses legs to steer

Ringbot Monocycle Robot with Legs
Inspired by Star Wars, the monocycle Ringbot rolls on a round body, and steers deftly with its extendable legs. Images courtesy University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

In an innovative leap that blurs the lines between science fiction and technological reality, researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, led by Associate Professor Joohyung Kim, have introduced the world to a new type of robot that might just redefine mobility in robotics. Dubbed the Ringbot, this prototype combines the conceptual allure of Star Wars’ wheel-bodied battle droids with practical engineering inspired by monowheels and “wheeled-foot” robots. This creation signifies a step forward in the quest for versatile, efficient robots capable of navigating the complexities of human environments.

The concept of a monowheel is not new; it is a vehicle concept where the driver or rider sits within a single large wheel, propelling forward as the wheel rotates. This idea has fascinated engineers and scientists for years, leading to various full-size monowheels.

Similarly, the Ringbot operates on a principle that is equally mesmerizing and practical. It rolls on a singular large wheel, made from a nylon/carbon composite rim and a solid elastomer tire, measuring 515 mm in diameter. What sets the Ringbot apart is its unique method of steering and stabilization, achieved through the use of extendable legs.

At the heart of the Ringbot’s design are two motorized driving modules positioned inside the rim. These modules, connected by a stretchable curly cord, propel the robot forward by engaging the rim’s surface with small cog wheels. The truly innovative feature of the Ringbot, however, lies in the articulated robotic legs mounted on each module. These legs can extend outward or downward, enabling the robot to steer by shifting its balance, stabilize itself when stationary, and even right itself from a fall.

Ringbot Monocycle Robot with Legs Capabilities
Different capabilities of the Ringbot.

Drawing inspiration from “wheeled-foot” robots like ETH Zurich’s ANYmal, which uses motorized wheels on the ends of its legs for efficient travel on smooth surfaces and transitions to walking on uneven terrain, the Ringbot promises versatility. The ability to adjust its center of mass and deploy legs for various functions allows the Ringbot to maintain balance and navigate turns with an elegance reminiscent of a sci-fi droid.

In its current prototype form, the Ringbot has reached speeds of up to 5 km/h (3 mph) in indoor tests, controlled remotely by a human operator. However, the vision for the Ringbot extends far beyond these initial experiments. Future iterations of the robot are expected to be equipped with cameras, sensors, and GPS, enabling autonomous navigation through crowded city streets. The aim is to develop the Ringbot into a speedy, agile robot capable of performing last-mile deliveries, skillfully maneuvering through traffic and overcoming obstacles that would challenge traditional delivery methods.

Monocycle Ringbot Legs Down Standing
The Ringbot deploys its legs for stability when at rest.

Associate Professor Kim and his team are motivated by the potential of the Ringbot to revolutionize delivery services in densely populated urban areas. By harnessing the robot’s ability to navigate narrow spaces efficiently, they hope to automate and optimize the delivery process, reducing reliance on motorcycles and bikes that currently dominate the urban delivery landscape.

The development of the Ringbot, partially funded by the Hyundai Motor Group, has been documented in a paper published in the IEEE Transactions on Robotics. This research not only showcases the potential for innovative robotic mobility solutions but also opens the door to future applications where robots seamlessly integrate into human environments, enhancing services and capabilities in urban settings.

Monocycle Ringbot Overcoming Obstacles
The Ringbot overcoming various obstacles.

As we stand on the brink of this new era in robotics, the Ringbot represents more than just a technological novelty; it is a glimpse into a future where the lines between science fiction and reality continue to blur, bringing imaginative concepts to life in ways that could transform our world.

Monocycle Ringbot with Legs Standing Up
The Ringbot uses its extendable legs to right itself from a fall, ready to continue its journey.

Source: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign