Ollie (I think its name is Ollie) is a “a novel wheel-legged robot” from Tencent Robotics. The word “novel” is used quite appropriately here, since Ollie sports some unusual planar parallel legs atop driven wheels. It’s also got a multifunctional actuated tail that not only enables some impressive acrobatics, but also allows the robot to transition from biped-ish to triped-ish to stand up extra tall and support a coffee-carrying manipulator.
It’s a little disappointing that the tail only appears to be engaged for specific motions—it doesn’t seem like it’s generally part of the robot’s balancing or motion planning, which feels like a missed opportunity. But this robot is relatively new, and its development is progressing rapidly, which we know because an earlier version of the hardware and software was presented at ICRA 2021 a couple weeks back. Although, to be honest with you, there isn’t a lot of info on the new one besides the above video, so we’ll be learning what we can from the ICRA paper.
The paper is mostly about developing a nonlinear balancing controller for the robot, and they’ve done a bang-up job with it, with the robot remaining steady even while executing sequences of dynamic motions. The jumping and one-legged motions are particularly cool to watch. And, well, that’s pretty much it for the ICRA paper, which (unfortunately) barely addresses the tail at all, except to say that currently the control system assumes that the tail is fixed. We’re guessing that this is just a symptom of the ICRA paper submission deadline being back in October, and that a lot of progress has been made since then.
Seeing the arm and sensor package at the end of the video is a nod to some sort of practical application, and I suppose that the robot’s ability to stand up to reach over that counter is some justification for using it for a delivery task. But it seems like it’s got so much more to offer, you know? Many far more boring platforms robots could be delivering coffee, so let’s find something for this robot to do that involves more backflips.
Balance Control of a Novel Wheel-legged Robot: Design and Experiments, by Shuai Wang, Leilei Cui, Jingfan Zhang, Jie Lai, Dongsheng Zhang, Ke Chen, Yu Zheng, Zhengyou Zhang, and Zhong-Ping Jiang from Tencent Robotics X, was presented at ICRA 2021.
Evan Ackerman is the senior writer for IEEE Spectrum’s award-winning robotics blog, Automaton. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and emerging technology, covering conferences and events on every single continent except Africa, Antarctica, Australia, and South America (although he remains optimistic). In addition to Spectrum, Evan’s work has appeared in a variety of other online publications including Gizmodo and Slate, and you may have heard him on NPR’s Science Friday or the BBC World Service if you were listening at just the right time. Evan has an undergraduate degree in Martian geology, which he almost never gets to use, and still wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. In his spare time, he enjoys scuba diving, rehabilitating injured raptors, and playing bagpipes excellently.