Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara have designed a one-foot device that can leap more than 100 feet in the air—three times the current record for a jumping robot, according to a video. The paper, which was published in the journal Nature, suggests this technology could be used to navigate obstacles on Earth and in space.
“The motivation came from a scientific question,” lead author Elliot W. Hawkes, a mechanical engineer at UC Santa Barbara, says in a statement. “We wanted to understand what the limits were on engineered jumpers.”
Many mechanical jumping systems are based on biological jumpers—or those in the animal kingdom. But animals have limits to their jumping ability based on how much energy they can produce in a stroke of their muscle, Charles Xaio, a researcher in Hawkes’ lab, says in the statement. Animals have relatively small springs too, just enough to store the energy produced by this stroke.
“The best animal jumper is likely [a squirrel-sized primate called] the galago, which has been measured jumping around 2.3 meters [10.5 feet] high from a standstill,” Hawkes tells Scientific American’s Sophie Bushwick.
Researchers in this study took a different approach, using a motor to take multiple strokes and increase the amount of stored energy in the spring. The small motor winds up a line that constricts the spring, which is made of carbon-fiber compression bows and rubber bands. When a release mechanism is unlatched, the device launches into the air.
Because the stored energy is greater, this device’s spring-to-motor ratio was also larger than what’s seen in the animal kingdom by about 100 times, per the statement. The device is lightweight and aerodynamic, which allows it to jump the height of a 10-story building and accelerate from zero to 60 mph in nine meters per second [30 feet per second].
“It jumps much higher than most of the rest of the jumping robots in the world do—if not all of them that I’m aware of,” Sarah Bergbreiter, a mechanical engineer at Carnegie Mellon University, who was not involved in the new study but wrote a commentary about it, tells Scientific American.
While this kind of device could be used to navigate difficult terrains on earth, researchers say it could reach heights even greater on the moon, where gravity is weaker.
“On Earth, jumping robots could overcome obstacles previously only navigated by flying robots while collecting vision-based data of the ground below,” write the authors. “On the Moon, the leaps of the presented jumper would be even loftier: 125 m [410 ft] high while covering half a kilometer [.3 miles] in a single bound.”