Disney’s Awesome New Robot Can Climb Walls

Look at it (verti-)go!

Screen grab from YouTube.com

While most of the world is freaking out about BB-8, the adorable droid from The Force Awakens, a different Disney robot just blew our minds—and this one’s real. As the video below shows, the four-wheeled VertiGo can roll along vertical surfaces as if they were horizontal. Created by Disney Research in collaboration with the Zurich-based university ETH, it can transition seamlessly from the ground to a wall, and may, a press release suggests, even be able to glide along ceilings.

While VertiGo’s creators refer to it as a robot, it’s actually less like something you’d find trawling the sand seas of Jakku than a terrestrial remote controlled car, since it requires a human operator. It’s made with 3-D–printed parts, “a two-ringed Cardan Suspension,” and other high-tech components. Most impressive of all, a pair of movable propellers power its wall climbing stunts. As Gizmodo explains, it’s the steerability of these propellers that allows the device to move upward “like a gecko.”

For many of us, the real news here may be that Disney has a research division in the first place. As the division’s “about us” page suggests, it exists primarily to facilitate development of new entertainment technologies for its corporate parent. Other recent innovations have included face-capture technologies and systems for simulating the movement of cloth, both of which have obvious and meaningful film and video applications.

VertiGo seems less immediately practical, however cool it might be. Its developers allow only that it “extends the ability of robots to travel through urban and indoor environments.” This offers little indication as to how it might serve Disney’s purposes, though it seems possible that it might complement similarly lightweight camera systems or play a role in the company’s amusement parks. For now, at least, it’s just fun to watch it roll around.