Look, It’s A Helicopter! It’s A Plane! It’s A Rolling Robot!

The helicopter-plane-ball-bot sounds like a creation [Homer Simpson] would come up with, but it’s a fairly accurate description of what this machine can do. It was developed by researches at Japan’s ministry of defense. The single propeller lets it operate much like a helicopter. But when it needs to get somewhere quick, the body repositions itself with the propeller at the front, while those black panels function as wings. Finally, the spherical body lets it travel along surfaces, vertical or horizontal. It can even roll along the ground.

After the break you can see a flight demo video from the 2011 Digital Contents Expo. It makes us wonder about the control interface. Which part of this is the front side, and how does it know which direction the operator intends to steer it? Perhaps there is feedback on the cardinal orientation of the control unit? We don’t have the answers to these queries, but we think there’s something very Sci-Fi about it. It brings to mind the Dog Pod aerostatic defensive grid from Neal Stephenson’s novel The Diamond Age.

[Thanks Rob]

27 thoughts on “Look, It’s A Helicopter! It’s A Plane! It’s A Rolling Robot!

    1. Except — using a pusher prop would require changing prop direction (fixed-pitch prop) from hover mode — not likely. The comment in the video about the control surfaces in front may have been incorrect. We need more info on the specifics of this design.

      I think it is basically just a ball wrapped around a basic “3D Foamy”:

      1. The page image gives you a perfectly good picture of the ball.

        It’s a pull engine with a ring of control surfaces around the propeller, and the lift surfaces are in a ring below that. The pull engine makes it inherently stable, and the front-located control surfaces make it more agile, I think.

  1. I want one. Or eight. But I’m sure the military would love an (networked) army of these, too.

    I respect the guy for saying something along the line of, “yeah, it’s neat, but nothing significant, so meh….” :)

  2. So, it appears to use the flappie things to keep it from spinning as it hovers. I’m guessing it also uses them to change its orientation when it wants to move sideways. Also note the differently colored LEDs around its body. I’m guessing it’s getting orientation and positional feedback from cameras around the room. If that’s the case, the controller just needs an x-y stick and a z stick, and the operator can just move it in any direction.

    Sor a somewhat less controlled environment, I guess you could use a combination of accelerometers, GPS, and outward-facing cameras to get fast and accurite attitude information.

  3. funny how the first post from this one and the first post from the older hackaday comments have the same first comment about star wars drone with a needle.

    After seeing all the quad copters i started drawing up plans for a ball design that would use a single ducted fan with four vents for control. i think my parts cost was about $1000. But my ball would of been a sealed one. The parts cost made me stop thinking about building it ;)

    Funny how the government would buy two at any cost. Since it really is our cost (TAX’S)

  4. double post but i had another comment.

    We don’t have to worry yet about these taking over the world. 8 minute fly time we can wait it out. Until they have the tiny nuclear power source that terminator has then no worries.

      1. Those fly high and are planes not small choppers that change directions at will.
        A drone made from this would not work in places where people have AK’s but it would work for the cops to spy on you and spray you with pepper spray, and that’s the worrying part.

  5. I don’t have the link to the webforum right now, but this whole project was debunked ala reverse-engineering and self-made-prototypes by some Airplane and RC fanatics on an RC website, by looking at the photos, footage and press reports.

    The guy made it for about $1kUSD out of parts from hobby stores in Japan, and then has been fine-tuning it ever since.

    It’s more than just having an RC plane hovering vertically though that’s the basic premise. I believe there were 8 main control flaps, 8 3-way accellerometers and some other simple tidbits. It was really neat. I follow the debunking webforum for a month or so but haven’t been back in awhile.

    They had a working replica (minus some bugs) made out of foam board and some spare RC parts and gadgets.

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