GimBall Bounces off Trees and Comes Back for More


We’ve seen a lot of flying robots over the years, and for many of them, intimate contact with a stationary object would be a very, very bad thing. [The Laboratory of Intelligent Systems], at EPFL in Switzerland designed GimBall to not only take impacts in stride, but to actually use them as navigational aids. This is similar to an insect bouncing off an obstacle in nature.

GimBall’s design is a bit of a departure from the norm as well. Contra-rotating airplane propellers provide thrust while countering torque. It appears that the propellers are driven by two separate brushless outrunner motors, which would allow for yaw control via mismatched torque. Directional control is provided by a 4 articulated vanes on the bottom of the craft. Standard RC servos move the vanes. While not as common as quadcopters today, this “tail sitting” design has been around for decades. The Convair XFY “Pogo” is a good example of an early tail sitter design.

What makes GimBall so novel is its exoskeleton. A carbon fiber gimbal encircles the entire craft. Around the gimbal is a geodesic sphere made up of carbon fiber rods and plastic joints. The sphere acts like a shock absorber, allowing GimBall to harmlessly bounce off objects. The gimbal ensures that impacts won’t upset the craft’s attitude. Check out the video after the break to see how these two systems form an impressive shell which completely separates GimBall’s chassis from the outside world. GimBall can actually use its shell to “rotate” around obstacles.

During a recent test, GimBall was unleashed in a forest with only a compass heading as guidance. It was able to travel several hundred meters, bouncing off trees and plants along the way.  [The Laboratory of Intelligent Systems] members hope that GimBall will one day be helpful in unstructured situations, such as searching for victims of building collapses.

[Thanks Jayson!]


  1. ekoelle says:

    I believe Chris Knight made one of these back in the 80’s…

  2. Whatnot says:

    Well, for a test it’s OK, but please people, don’t use these kinds of noisy annoying sounding things in the forest if you can avoid it.

    (I think if you try to use them in a city others will point out the annoying aspect in a clwar manner, so that fixes itself ;)

  3. McSquid says:

    So its a flying goomba?

  4. Remove the sphere, sharpen up the blades of the propellers… manhack swarm anyone?

  5. Acido says:

    “… helpful in unstructured situations, such as searching for victims of building collapses” — yeeeah, right. Like General Dynamics’ “Big Dog”, a kind of St. Bernhard’s that can search for avalanche victims, no? Rumor has it the Terminator was officially developed to help with the lack of qualified kindergarten personnel.

  6. Tagraf says:

    Add the frame to quadcopter then use the design and revise it into a larger scale for human capacity to fit and fly in it.

  7. Drone says:

    Where’s my Gimball Swatter?

  8. George says:

    Oh, this is evil! Imagine annoying drones flying around in a non logical way (just towards a way point as this drone does) and bumping on your head! It can be compared with annoying bugs likes mosquitoes and the like, lol…

  9. ameyring says:

    Kind of resembles those flying disks the enemy used to find Mr Incredible and his family in the movie. Very cool way to operate an octocopter in a confined area.

  10. Ollie says:

    This is startlingly close to the manhacks from Half-life 2!

  11. Pinky's Brain says:

    Wonder if you could retrofit this to a RC heli as a learning aid and maybe for obstacle course runs.

  12. Zee says:

    The got a grant for this? I remember hobbyists doing this years ago.

  13. Miroslav says:

    Guys from EPFL are doing awesome job. Always something new.

  14. Hurp says:

    I like how every autonomous robot video since the 80’s has been boldly envisioning ‘we hope to use these robots for search and rescue’ as if we’ve used them for search and rescue before. Where’s my jetpack at?

  15. DaveCN says:

    Anyone else think this thing looks like those round drones from Star Wars? Give it a lazer and Luke can train with it…

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