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Corkscrew Robot - can you do it? Answered

Here's one for the more creative engineers - a robot running on corkscrews instead of wheels or legs.

Tim Lexen, an engineer in Cumberland, Wisconsin, has come up with a novel design for robots. It has a triangular body 18 centimetres on a side, capped by a round lid, and three stainless steel coils 20 cm in diameter and 40 cm long. Each coil is turned by a motor - and by activating a coil, the robot can move in the direction of the coil's axis.

"It runs very well on grass, sand, gravel and other outdoor surfaces," Lexen said when he presented his work earlier this month at the IEEE International Conference on Technologies for Practical Robot Applications in Woburn, Massachusetts. However, the prototype has trouble gaining traction on surfaces like polished wood floors.

Here's the thing though; Lexen's prototype is only radio-controlled.  A human operator chooses what direction to rotate which screws.

Given the idea, I bet the clever folk here could not only replicate the corkscrew drive, but make it autonomous.

I'd bet an Arduino or Raspberry Pi would be up to the job.

Go on - imagine the kudos of beating the boffins at their own game!

New Scientist article.

Abstract of Lexen's work.

Video of robot in action.



7 years ago

More of the historical screw-drive vehicles.

Oh, there's blueprints...

It's an interesting concept. I'd have loved to see it deal with the snow in the video. I see no reason WHY it couldn't be automated. be interesting to see how and IF it develops further. It's certainly got the potential to do some interesting work.

I think deep snow would be a problem, unless they made the coils more blade- or screw-like. The central body would have to be smooth to slide over the surface more easily.

Are the corkscrews lying flat with multiple points of contact or are they at a slight angle so only on point from each corkscrew is in contact at a time. It seems to me that they are flat. Would it work/work better if they were at an angle? This seems like a very interesting idea.

Flat, I think.

If the diameter was large enough, it would be invertible, wouldn't it?

I checked out the abstract and that made it obvious that it is flat. I am interested in how the motors are turning when it is moving forward. The two rear rotors turn in the direction it wants to move in, like a differential drive or a robot in omni-directional wheels. Then the front rotor pulls it forward like it is digging into a cork in a bottle. I think that it is that movement that gives it an advantage over the omni-directional 3 wheeled robots.

The idea of invertablity is a big plus. Making the rotor too big would affecting gearing and speed of it.

I am considering it.... I just finished with a robot competition so I am in need of a new robotics project.


7 years ago

That looks most excellent. I'm imagining it could locomote well in sandy or other messy real surfaces - wood floors are a bit unfair. ;)

That's a really interesting design, how suited for the Moon / Mars..?


The regolith is looser,especially on the Moon, so maybe add some sort of eel-like fin along the length of the screw, or make the cross-section more oval, to push against the dust?

It's certainly not a speedy beast, but I think that the screw-motion effectively gears the drive-motors waaay down (like a worm drive), so it would be suitable for an exploratory rover.