Researchers at Ben Gurion University's Bio-Inspired and Medical Robotics Lab have designed a reconfigurable robot capable of building its track up into the air to climb steps and overcome obstacles, using a minimal number of actuators. The RTCR (Reconfigurable Continuous Track Robot) can change its entire body shape via a series of links and a single actuator, which it leverages to build its own track up into the air as it advances.
In a recently released paper, entitled “A Minimally Actuated Reconfigurable Continuous Track Robot,” the team details how they developed the robot using a regular propulsion motor (actuator) fitted to a regular track, which has a locking mechanism located at the front. The links that make up the track have a unique design, which enables them to be left loose to rotate between -200 to +450. They can also be locked at 00 or +200 relative to each other as they reach the front of the robot.
Each link in the robot’s track is outfitted with a locking pin, and depending on what the actuator is set to when a link moves across it, the locking pin can be engaged so that the following link can be set at a certain angle. This ability allows the robot to be flexible and rigid, which lets it travel upwards over obstacles or climb stairs. While that is a great feat in its own right, the robot does have one drawback: it cannot steer or change direction other than moving forward or backward. The researchers state a simple solution would be to use a pair of tracks with skid steering, similar to how tanks change direction. They are even creating a locomotion-planning algorithm, which would give the robot the ability to traverse over different terrains.