History of the Skippy Project

The Skippy project began in 2010 when Morteza joined the ANU as a PhD student, and Roy spent a 1-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.

The next step forward came when Sep Driessen joined the project in 2015.  Sep is an expert mechanical designer, and it is largely thanks to him that the practical side of the Skippy project began to gather momentum.  Sep worked on a proof-of-concept design of Skippy for his Masters' project, and then rejoined the project as a PhD student in November 2015.  We decided to proceed by first building a balancing-only precursor to Skippy, called Tippy, to implement and test the balancing skills that Skippy would need.  Tippy would also serve as our practice run for Skippy.

By March 2017, Sep had already designed and built the mechanics of Tippy, and had made a start on the electronics.  But then we hit a slow patch, and Tippy was not fully operational until October 2017.  In the meantime, two more students joined the team: Antony Gkikakis in late 2016 and Bajwa Singh in early 2017.  Also, Roy has been busy refining and improving the theory behind the high-performance balancing skills that Tippy would demonstrate.

That brings us up to the present.  Right now, we are mostly working on experiments with Tippy, although the design of Skippy continues.