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Oh, the humanoid! Don’t worry, this blimp-bodied robot can’t crash

romela-balluGenerally one thinks of robots as powerful, rigid things packed with motors and actuators. But they don’t have to be like that, and in fact it may be freeing for engineers to work outside those constraints. What if, for example, your robot was almost lighter than air? That’s the concept tested in this highly buoyant prototype created by roboticists at UCLA.

BALLU, or buoyancy assisted lightweight legged robot, is really more a proof of concept than anything, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. The idea was to challenge the fact that most robots that try to walk… well, end up falling down. What if they couldn’t fall down? What if gravity went the other way?

The result of this little thought experiment is BALLU. The helium-filled body is just barely counteracted by the spindly legs and feet. The feet hide the actuating cables that bend the legs along a single degree of freedom, with very limited force. But it’s enough to put one foot in front of the other, or hop in place and a few other little tricks.