The Skippy project aims to design, build and demonstrate a highly athletic, yet very simple 3D hopping and balancing robot called Skippy. The picture above shows the basic design: a leg driven by a powerful actuator so that the robot can hop high, and a crossbar that allows it to balance and steer in 3D. The target mass is 2kg; the target hopping height is 4m; and the robot will be robust and padded enough to survive falls and crash landings undamaged, even from a substantial height.
The idea is to explore the limits of what is physically possible with today's technology, by means of a robot that is simple, robust and fairly cheap. Even though Skippy has only two actuated degrees of freedom, it will be capable of single hops and continuous hopping; hopping progressively in any direction; making sharp changes in direction; somersaulting forwards, backwards and sideways; tumbling; balancing on the spot while bowing, reorienting itself or waving its crossbar; twirling; moving in time to music; aiming itself and launching into a precise hop to land accurately on a target; and it will be able to deliberately lie down, or crash or accidentally fall, and get back up again unaided; to climb and go down stairs; and to bounce off walls, ceilings and other surfaces at any angle. And, of course, Skippy will do all of this in full 3D, and without any tether, umbilical, harness or safety net.
Whereas other high-performance robots, like the MIT Cheetah, are designed to be biomimetic or bio-inspired, Skippy is instead technology-inspired, meaning that its performance targets are guided by what we believe to be possible with today's technology. Hence the 4m hop, which greatly exceeds the jumping height of any 2kg animal, yet nevertheless should be possible for a properly designed robot. Skippy is also an exercise in obtaining the greatest possible repertoire of motor skills from the simplest possible mechanical system, which explains why Skippy has only two actuators instead of the three you might think would be necessary for a full 3D hopping machine, and explains also why Skippy is both a hopping machine and a balancing machine instead of being a hopping machine only.
Right now, Skippy is still at the design stage, and we are busy building a precursor to Skippy, called Tippy, which will be used to test the new balance control systems that Skippy will need in order to do its stuff. We are hoping to complete the design of Skippy, and perhaps even to start building it, by the end of 2017.
The host institution for the Skippy project is the Department of Advanced Robotics in the Italian Institute of Technology. To learn more about the Skippy project, see publication 7 and talk 2; and if you would like to be a part of this project then click on 'opportunities' at left.