FlipBot Is Why Your Car Needs a Tail

Do a barrel roll

2 min read

Evan Ackerman is IEEE Spectrum’s robotics editor.

FlipBot Is Why Your Car Needs a Tail
Image: Amir Patel

Cars are almost, but not quite, entirely incapable of acrobatics. We need to solve this. I'm not sure why we need to solve this, but we do, and the good news is roboticists are on it.

Following up on some work from last year on putting actuated tails on ground vehicles (inspired by other tailed robots like UC Berkeley's Tailbot), researchers from the University of Cape Town, in South Africa, have put a tail on a small RC car and gotten it to do a barrel roll.*

Inspired by the acrobatics of the lizard, we present a novel robot platform capable of performing a barrel roll from a ramp. The system is modeled using Euler-Lagrange mechanics, followed by controller design and numerical simulation. A robotic platform is then designed to perform the experiments. Finally, we show that purely by the use of the actuated tail, the robot can rapidly perform a 360 degree roll rotation in under a second.

I know, you're thinking, "Oh, what, a barrel roll? No big deal. I could totally do that. James Bond has done it, so how hard could it be?"

For the Bond movie, a stuntman supposedly performed the trick in the first (and only take) while eight cameras captured the scene from different angles and a team of divers and ambulances waited nearby in case something went wrong.

As far as we know, nobody has tried to do this in a movie ever since. Even Top Gear couldn't pull it off properly:

So, let's get on this: Top Gear, MythBusters, somebody: for the love of all that is incredibly awesome, put an actuated tail on a car and see what you can do with it.

"FlipBot: A Lizard Inspired Stunt Robot," by Callen Fisher and Amir Patel from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, will be presented next week at the 19th World Congress of the International Federation of Automatic Control.

* If you haven't yet Googled this phrase, you should try it.

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