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.

The Conversation (0)

The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

Keep Reading ↓Show less