Aru, a polymorph robot

After completing a preparatory course at Fermat high school in Toulouse, Titouan Le Marec entered ENSTA Paris in 2016, then went on to complete a double-diploma at Polytechnique Montréal. It was along the way that he matured the flagship project of his robotics startup Nimble One: Aru, an extraordinary robot capable of going where others don't go.

One of the most successful villains in cinema history is a robot, the main antagonist of Terminator 2. Made of a metal alloy whose consistency varies at will, the T-1000 can take on any form. In one particularly memorable scene, he passes through a barred door behaving like a fluid, as witnesses look on in amazement.

In real life, only one robot is capable of changing shape to get through a barred door. It's called Aru (for "Autonomous Remote Unit") and, far from being a killer robot, it's destined to become man's best friend in hostile environments. Since metal alloys that can be modified at will have yet to be invented, he's resorting to another technique to play the gatekeeper, as his designer, Titouan Le Marec, who graduated from ENSTA Paris in 2020 and founded the startup Nimble One, explains to us:

"I had the idea of creating a robot with 4 points of contact, in analogy with the 4 limbs of the human body, but without a central body. Each limb, equipped with a wheel, is articulated to its two neighbors. The result is a loop. This articulated concept makes it possible to act like a rover with natural suspension, but also to walk, climb steps and straddle obstacles".

However, the real strength of the concept is revealed when Aru opens the loop: he can then transform into a snake and progress through pipes, crawl under machines, through rubble, stand up to open a door... or pass through bars!

"Aru's primary function is mobility in complex environments," explains Titouan Le Marec. "We designed it to be able to take all kinds of tools to where they're needed, whatever obstacles it encounters along the way. Thanks to its ability to change shape, it can take shortcuts by conducting its own traversability analysis and explore 70-80% of an industrial site's facilities, compared with 20% if it had to stay on the same path as a human operator!"

This unusual form factor has another advantage: it's energy-efficient. Take a quadruped robot such as those proposed by Boston Dynamics. When powered up, standing on its 4 legs, it looks great. But cut the power, and it slumps to the ground. He can't hold the position, or at the cost of unreasonable energy consumption.

"Aru is sitting directly on his wheels," continues Titouan Le Marec. "If we cut the power to put him on standby and preserve the batteries, he'll keep his position. In the end, Aru is at least 50% more energy-efficient than his competitors on the same routes, enabling him to carry out longer missions with complete autonomy."

Another strong point of Aru and its unprecedented form factor is its interaction capabilities.
"By opening the loop, Aru can use its limbs as arms, and stand up to a height of 1.6 metres. With Aru, we have a system that naturally integrates movement and interaction, and gains in payload capacity."


Aru prend les commandes
Aru prend les commandes

It will soon be 3 years since Titouan Le Marec created Nimble One, in December 2020.

"I came back from Polytechnique Montréal at the end of August, where I had spent a long time developing the project. I had a good understanding of the technical issues, the constraints, and also the potential market. This enabled us to get off to a very strong start, releasing a V1 of the robot in September 2021, then presenting it at the famous Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January 2022."

This autumn, Nimble One will present a validation prototype that is just V3 of an extremely well-designed product from the outset.

"This is the prototype that will enable us to launch industrialization," enthuses Titouan Le Marec. "Aru V3 will enable us to fix the entire mechanical part, all the functions, mechanical sub-components, etc. We're now entering a phase of security: securing the supply chain and optimizing industrialization. And we're going to manufacture everything in France, because we've found reliable local partners. That's very important to me."

A crucial step for the young entrepreneur who, as far back as he can remember, has always had the desire to create, to innovate with real impact. At the same time, he is in the process of raising the company's first funds, so as to be able to approach the industrialization phase with confidence and strengthen the team.

While heavy industry is currently the primary market for Titouan Le Marec's Aru, he has a very precise idea of the services his creation could provide in the domestic environment: "Aru has the potential to be a fantastic domestic or assistance robot: it takes up very little space and is very stable, so there's no risk of it falling on a child or an elderly person, unlike humanoid robots whose stability has yet to be guaranteed. Taking up no more space than a stool, Aru moves and deploys when needed. That's my idea of robotics: maximum service for minimum space.

So forget Hollywood and its evil robots: if Aru goes out of its way, it will always be to provide you with ever more services.