Robots can solve a Rubik's Cube in one second, make dramatic escapes from their human captors, and will most likely steal your job someday. But they’ve never been too hot on parkour. Until now…
Roboticists at UC Berkeley have been hard at work creating “Salto”. This 26-centimeter (10.2-inch) robot is able to jump into the air and then spring off a vertical wall like a ninja. Salto was developed as part of a recently released study published in the journal Science Robotics. It even managed get the cover of this month's issue – after all, it’s a pretty cute-looking robot.
Salto can jump an average height of 1.21 meters (3.97 feet) at a speed of 1.75 meters (5.7 feet) per second, which trumps the vertical jumping speed of a bullfrog.
Although that’s by no means the highest known robot jump, Salto’s real skill is its wall-planting jumps. It does this all while tracking its relative position, meaning it doesn't just wildly spring off the wall with no control. The trick is to create a robot that can jump and plant itself on the wall, then quickly “reload” its legs, ready for another jump on the vertical surface.
SPRRRROING. Stephen McNally/UC Berkeley
As with many of science’s finest ideas, the robot was inspired by nature.
The researchers took note of the “power modulation” used by bushbabies (aka a galago) to pull off multiple jumps in quick succession of each other. This power modulation adaptation increases the amount of energy loaded in their muscles. Creatures that utilize this have an extremely low crouch posture, which allows their muscles more time to stretch their tendons and prep for the next jump. It’s the same for robots, just using motors instead of muscles.
"By combining biologically inspired design principles with improved engineering technology, matching the agile performance of animals may not be that far off," study author Ronald Fearing, a professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, said in a statement.