History of the Skippy Project

The Skippy project began in 2010 when Morteza Azad joined the Australian National University as a PhD student, and Roy spent a one-month sabbatical at ISIR in Paris, courtesy of Vincent Hayward.  Morteza provided the energy and enthusiasm to get things going, while Roy's sabbatical gave him the chance to figure out how balancing really works, viewing it as a physical process rather than an exercise in control theory.  Over the next four years, Morteza implemented planar balancing, both on a sharp point and on a rolling contact; single hops beginning and ending in a balanced configuration; and the first example of bend-swivel balance control in 3D.

That's an impressive amount of progress for a single PhD, but it was all done in simulation.  The real challenge was to make a physical robot that could do all this stuff, and that became possible when Roy joined IIT in 2014.  IIT has all the necessary resources and expertise to create world-class robotic devices, and it is a perfect place to create Skippy.

In 2015 a student called Sep Driessen did a Masters project under Roy's supervision; but then Roy took him on as a PhD student, which turned out to be a big mistake much to the detriment of the Skippy project.  There was a very noticeable increase in team productivity and progress after he left.  Employers beware!

By the autumn of 2016, Roy was building a team around the Skippy project, with the arrival first of Antony and then Roodra early the next year; and by the autumn of 2017 we were able to demonstrate Roy's new balance controller (which works very well) on a custom-built balancing machine called Tippy.  The design of Skippy began in the summer of 2018 with simulations and design studies by Roy, and later by both Roy and Antony.  Then in August 2019 Antony obtained the first major result: a design that passes every performance test on our list.  We are now making Skippy to this design.

Of course, lots of other things have been going on as well: shock testing of parts; lots of software both for Skippy and for Tippy; design and testing of Skippy's (very small) brain; choosing the right off-the-shelf components; finding suppliers of custom parts; and along the way learning a lot of new ideas and new skills.

It is all a lot of hard work, but it will be worth it when Skippy starts to show the world what it can do.