Novel Robot Design for Moving in Challenging Indoor and Outdoor Environments


At a Glance

A newly designed robot with tensegrity wheels and a bistable jumping mechanism that enable excellent navigation capabilities over challenging terrain. The wheels can change shape – expand or collapse, are light weight, and have great shock absorption. The robot’s movement and navigation capabilities have been tested in various indoor and outdoor environments, including over sand, grass, rocks, ice, and snow. It can also jump and navigate steps of various heights and has a high payload-to-bodyweight ratio.


Robots are increasingly being used in emergency management and search and rescue applications. These robots need to be able to cross different types of terrain such as uneven surfaces, debris fields, and small gaps, drops, and climbs. There are a variety of adaptations that have been developed to help robots navigate challenging environments, such as shape-changing wheels or irregularly shaped wheels. Jumping mechanisms are known to help robots overcome larger obstacles. The use of tensegrity structures has been applied to robots, typically as part of the body or as the main structure of the device. However previous designs tend to focus on one specific task: either locomotion, manipulation, or load bearing. It is important to have a design that can address all aspects.


The tensegrity wheel in this design integrates the benefits of wheel-leg wheels, shape-changing wheels, and tensegrity structures. This combination enhances the climbing capabilities, enables shape modification, provides shock absorption, and allows for a high payload to bodyweight ratio. Experiments demonstrated that the robot was capable of carrying a cargo almost 5 times its weight. When navigating obstacles, the width of the robot could be reduced from 400 to 180 mm and the height increased from 75 to 95 mm by collapsing the wheels. The tensegrity wheels enable the robot to overcome steps up to 110 and 150 mm depending on the wheel configuration. A bistable mechanism that gradually stores, but quickly releases energy allows the robot to jump 300 mm. Figure 1 displays an obstacle course of various challenges that the robot can navigate. This adaptable design could be applied to search and rescue after disasters or surveillance and monitoring in unstructured or difficult environments.


  • Shock-absorbing nature
  • Shape-changing ability for versatile utility
  • Lightweight, for easy transportation and deployment
  • Cost-effective due to minimal material usage and repeatable components
  • High weight-to-load-carrying capacity
  • Impressive obstacle climbing abilities with high adaptability
  • Self-supporting, without the need of internal air pressure


  • Emergency management for search and rescue operations
  • Environmental monitoring in difficult terrains
  • Enhanced capability transport in aerospace or military applications
Last Updated: September 2023
graphic showing the anatomy of the mentioned robot

Available for Licensing
TRL: 6

IP Status

Provisional Patent Application Filed


Sydney Spiegel

Jianguo Zhao

Jiefeng Sun

Reference Number
Licensing Manager

Aly Hoeher