Robotics is an admittedly geeky field dominated by engineers and not designers. But one thing I really appreciate about it is that, in the fields of robotics not dedicated to anthropomorphizing metal, it is relentlessly creative in a way many other fields are not. For example, cell phone designers look to the iPhone, and both Hollywood and Detroit have resorted to mining their pasts to create "new" releases; but roboticists are still tinkering away in pure creativity, absent any focus groups and driven only by "Will this thing work?"
A case in point is the wide variety of solutions that roboticists have developed for how to get a low-lying robot up a staircase. Some use insect-like legs, others use wheels and treads/tracks; there is such a diversity of approaches that for this entry we'll just look at a few of the wheeled and tracked variety. Even within this category, I'm struck by the variety and creativity of the solutions.
First up, check out this four-wheeler designed by Japan's University of Tsukuba Intelligent Robot Laboratory. (You really only need to watch from 0:16 to 0:46 to get the idea; the rest is repetitive filler and seems like it was filmed during an earthquake.)
Then there's Israel's Ariel University Center of Somaria's Mechatronics contraption, which uses four rotating components at each corner that each have three wheels. (Warning: Turn your volume down--for some reason they have a hack remix DJ blaring a butchered version of Midnight Oil's "Beds are Burning.")
France's University of Angers-designed B2P2 Unmanned Ground Vehicle uses tanklike treads whose overall shape can be altered by the interplay of a third axis at the front, which can raise and lower independent of the two rear axes:
This design by China's Gaoyuan University of Technology, Department of Electrical Engineering uses conventional wheels augmented by four pistons for leverage:
The iLean robot from the UCSD Coordinated Robotics Lab has the absolute nuttiest way of getting up stairs we've ever seen:
Lastly, 23-year-old American engineer and tinkerer Greg Schroll's Gyroscopic Robot won a Popular Mechanics Most Brilliant Innovators of 2009 award. Here are some ultra-short (3-second) clips of his device vis-a-vis stairs,
and here's a longer video featuring Schroll on "The Circuit," a program on tech innovation. His device is completely nuts, as you'll see in the specific coverage of it beginning at 1:45.