I have long believed that biomimicry, looking to nature for design inspiration, is one of the most promising areas of robotics development. One of the latest bots to get a… leg up (OK, that was bad, I apologize) in robotics locomotion through biomimicry is the Salto. Being developed at UC Berkeley (one of the true innovators in bio-inspired robotics), Salto is a tiny leaping bot that can jump almost 28′ in 5 combined jumps. The jumping mechanism on Salto was inspired by the galago (AKA the bush baby).
Besides jumping impressively high, the team working on Salto is also working on the one-legged robot’s ability to combine leaps and bounces off of walls and other surfaces to do some serious traveling over both horizontal and vertical terrain. For the inspiration here, the team turned to another animal in the wild, the human parkour jumper!
An article in Berkeley News explains the basics of how Salto works:
To build the robot, known as Salto (for saltatorial locomotion on terrain obstacles), the engineers studied the animal kingdom’s most vertically agile creature, the galago, which can jump five times in just four seconds to gain a combined height of 8.5 meters (27.9 feet). The galago has a special ability to store energy in its tendons so that it can jump to heights not achievable by its muscles alone.
To compare the vertical agility of robots and animals, the researchers developed a new metric to measure vertical agility, defined as the height that something can reach with a single jump in Earth gravity, multiplied by the frequency at which that jump can be made. Salto’s robotic vertical jumping agility is 1.75 meters per second, which is higher than the vertical jumping agility of a bullfrog (1.71 meters per second) but short of the vertical jumping agility of the galago (2.24). The robot with the second highest vertical agility that the team measured is called Minitaur (1.1 m/s)
One of the other things I love about Salto is how approachable it appears to be to build, at least the hardware part. I can’t imagine how crazy programming something like this must be. A paper in Science’s Robotics magazine provides a good overview into the technology behind Salto and how the robot’s leaping mechanism works. I am looking forward to seeing where this technology goes (gets vivid image of a one-legged Boston Robotics-type humanoid leaping over an urban landscape. Shudders.).
BTW: Did you know it is National Robotics Week? The website for the celebration has links to all sorts of events, resources, links to projects, and more. One fun thing they offer is a set of Robot All-Stars trading cards that you can print out. The “deck” features 10 of the most interesting, progressive robotic designs from US companies and R&D labs for 2017.