jumping robot

Tiny jumping robot can leap off walls to navigate difficult locations

A small robot with unique leaping capabilities has been developed by a team at UC Berkeley who hope it could be used to conduct search and rescue operations in difficult locations.

The device, dubbed Salto, is inspired by the remarkable jumping ability of an African primate called a galago, and has vertical jumping agility like no other machine, able to leap into the air and then spring off a wall, or perform multiple leaps consecutively.

When designing mobile robots, researchers sometimes mimic the way animals move. For example a miniature robot that can squeeze itself into tiny gaps like a cockroach was developed for disaster areas in February. 

In this case, the researchers sought to create a robot that might need to hurdle impediments as it traverses difficult terrain like the rubble of a building wrecked by an earthquake.

To design Salto, short for “saltatorial locomotion on terrain obstacles,” the University of California, Berkeley, researchers sought inspiration from one of the animal kingdom’s best leapers.

The galago, or bushbaby, is a relatively small, typically night-active and tree-dwelling primate. It is an agile leaper and can hop high in the air on two legs while on the ground. The goal was to build a robot better at leaping than any other.

“We looked to biology for inspiration because it’s fair to say that animals can outclass any robot when it comes to jumping,” said robotics researcher Duncan Haldane, who led the study.

“Our goal was to have a search and rescue robot small enough to not disturb the rubble further [and] move quickly across the many kinds of rubble produced by collapsed buildings.”

The galago jumps so well because it stores energy in its tendons when it is in a crouched position and can then spring into the air. The researchers adapted that into Salto by using a motorised, spring-loaded leg mechanism that lets the robot get into the same type of crouched position.

Salto weighs just 100 grammes, is about 26 cm tall and can jump one metre high. It achieves 78 per cent of the galago’s vertical jumping prowess.

“We’re particularly interested these days in seeing if we can not just match but exceed the performance of animals,” said UC-Berkeley electrical engineering and computer sciences professor Ronald Fearing, who heads the lab where Salto was developed.

“The more we understand about how animals move and how to use the available engineering technologies, the closer we can get to that point.”

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