If you've ever played with one of those little Crambidae (grass moth) caterpillars that react to your touch by springing away from you in a wheel-like movement, then you know they can be quite entertaining. This motion is known as ballistic rolling, and those little suckers roll up in less than 100 ms, then race away at nearly a foot per second.
Few people have had as much fun with these as Huai-Ti Lin, former graduate research student at the Tufts Biomimetic Devices Laboratory (now working on postdoctoral research at Harvard), and creator of the GoQBot. Named "for its body conformation at the push-off phase," the GoQBot is a soft-bodied robot that mimics the ballistic rolling of the Crambidae caterpillar, but at "about 1G of acceleration and more than 200 rpm of angular velocity."
"It's wicked fast," says Lin, who is now working on animal flight.
Okay, so this thing is pretty cool, but what could it be used for? According to Lin and his colleagues, the GoQBot design could be "a solution to fast locomotion in robotic devices with linear bodies." Robots like these can be used to access difficult spaces, while rolling robots have been used in space, and can run over obstacles that many other similar sized robots might struggle with.
It would also make an awesome toy.
Here it is in action: