Inventing the Robotic Soldier

October 1, 2001 | Source: New York Times

A small armored sphere rolls swiftly across a craggy landscape. It comes to a sudden stop, perching on three telescoping legs and sprouting a long neck with an eye that can swivel around 360 degrees. The enemy opens fire, but bullets merely ricochet off the sphere’s exoskeleton as from yet another opening there emerges a gun, which — sensing heat and motion — takes aim and fires…

Patent 6,289,263

Patent 6,289,263

Such is battle as conceived by Ranjan Mukherjee, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Michigan State University, who has received patent 6,289,263 three weeks ago for a spherical robotic soldier.

The sphere is propelled by shifting its internal weight. Uses also include intelligence gathering, fire rescue or space exploration.

The patent abstract reads:

A spherical robot having a spherical body and a drive mechanism. The spherical body defines a cavity and a center. The drive mechanism is disposed within the cavity, coupled to the spherical body, wherein said drive mechanism includes a plurality of masses coupled to said body which are radially positionable within said cavity to create a moment about said center of said body, and is adapted to create a moment about the center of the body. This moment causes the body to rotate.