Czech students develop inexpensive experimental robot, will make it available to anyone

SK8O, photo: archive of Czech Technical University in Prague

Graduate students at the Czech Technical University in Prague have developed a balancing robot, which they dubbed “SK8O” (Skate-O). Thanks to its relatively low price (50,000 Czech crowns) and open-source design, the device can be built in schools or by robotics enthusiasts.

Equipped with GPS and cameras, SK8O can balance on its two legs with wheels and move around autonomously. Krištof Pučejdl, who worked on the robot with fellow doctorate students Martin Gurtner and Adam Kollarčík, told Radio Prague about the sources of inspiration for SK8O and why his team was able to construct a working prototype on their first try, which does not happen often in robotics.

“The design software allows you to run through multiple iterations without needing to physically make the parts, so I was trying to start with something that was final already. It also helped that this robot is inspired by two pre-existing robots. The first one is a robot called the “Handle” from Boston Dynamics, which is a well-known company that has been doing dynamic robots for many years. The second inspiration we drew was from the Ascento robot, which was developed by a team of engineers at the Technical University in Zurich.”

Sk8o [skeɪtəʊ] –⁠ two-legged wheeled balancing robot

The small, ostrich-like robot was printed on an ordinary 3D printer and most of its components are widely available in electrical engineering stores. A relatively low construction price of 50 thousand crowns and open-source design make it possible for schools or hobbyists to build their version of SK8O. Krištof Pučejdl again:

“I wanted to have the robot 3D printed because this whole project aims for reproducibility. We are hoping that even a moderately skilled person should be able to use our files and make their own version of the SK8O.”

According to Pučejdl, SK8O is meant primarily as an educational platform, on which undergraduate students can learn programming algorithms and artificial intelligence. But it is also promising for research.

“This robot, as simple as it looks, has some similarities to more complicated devices. For example, SPACE-X’s Falcon 9 rocket uses advanced control methods, like numerical optimization of the landing trajectory, when it lands. Something very similar can be done with SK8O to enable it to jump and land successfully without falling over. That is an exciting topic of our research and what we hope to be doing with SK8O in the coming weeks, months, and years.”

Plans are also underway for further software development which would enable SK8O to execute functions that it is not programmed for yet, such as ascending a flight of stairs. With more tinkering, the robot could also be used for commercial purposes like delivering packages between offices or guarding factories. Devices like SK8O, which can function autonomously and perform routine tasks in human work environments, are currently of immense interest in robotics. ČVUT plans to build more versions of the robot for use in education and research.