This Ingenious Robot Rolls, Unfolds, Then Scampers

Why should robots walk when they can roll?

When we consider the future of robots, it’s often one full of androids. We imagine mechanical beings that look like ourselves. Two legs, two arms, a head–and all of the capabilities and limitations that such a body brings. Meanwhile, some of the most interesting robot designs are those not modeled after humans, but modeled to do things humans could never dream of doing.


MorpHex, by hobbiest roboticist Kåre Halvorsen, is a relatively common hexapod (eight-legged) robot with a twist. It’s fitted with a shell of panels that, when retracted, transform the robot from an arachnid insect into a sphere. And by gently nudging its panels along, the MorpHex can even make itself roll.

“About two years ago I got this idea of making something different instead of a standard walking robot,” Halvorsen tells Co.Design. “After watching my two eldest kids playing with Bakugan toy, I thought that it would be fun to make something similar. A sphere-shaped object that conceals a secret, in the form of a different object or creature, is something most of us find very appealing.”

Transformers come to mind, but Halvorsen’s design seems to scratch the surface of something far more fundamental than turning a robot into a car. A ball–a simple, humble ball–can pull off all sorts of feats thanks to its capable shape. It can easily roll down stairs that challenge mechanical legs, and it can become the centerpiece of any number of sports. A ball can be fit down a chute, and a ball naturally protects its potentially fragile interior.

A ball is not a refined object for a single purpose, but a universal shape appropriate to any number of purposes. It’s a geometric platform poised for the capabilities of imagination. By transforming into a ball, a sturdy but limited hexapod becomes a robot that could go anywhere and do any number of things.

For Halvorsen’s next iteration of the MorpHex, he plans to redesign the robot to be symmetrical (as of now, the motors are all on one side), which will enable its ball form to move in any and all directions. After that, well, maybe this whole robot hobby should become Halvorsen’s full-time gig.

[Hat tip: Geek]

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.