This jumping robot leaps to new heights

A new primate-inspired robot has a feature that is leaps and bounds above the rest.

Scientists from U.C. Berkeley invented a one legged robot named Salto — short for ‘Saltatorial Locomotion Terrain Obstacles’ — that can jump higher than any other untethered robot. In a Science Robotics study, the team said Salto can jump at a rate of 1.75 meters (or almost 6 feet) per second, a rate 56 percent better than all other jumping bots.

The team created Salto after watching search and rescue workers maneuver through rubble.

“Our goal was to have a search and rescue robot small enough not to disturb the rubble further,” Duncan Haldane, roboticist and co-inventor of Salto, said in a press conference, and to “move quickly across the many kinds of rubble produced by collapsed buildings.”

The robot’s design was inspired by the galago, a small primate that can leap from branch to branch at a rate of 2.2 meters (a little more than 7 feet) per second.

Salto bounds around on one spring-loaded leg. Its spring is made of the same material as a rubber band and stretches like a slinky. The robot enters a super-crouch position, like a lion right before it leaps after its next meal. This spring and compression combination gives Salto a novel way to store and release more energy than other jumping robots.

Sensors help Salto keep its balance as it leaps and rebounds. This feature allows the robot to jump, push off wall and flip in midair.

The research team hopes Salto’s light weight, small size, high, reactive jumps and sensors will allow Salto to move through uneven terrain at a fast pace — a feature that could mean the difference between life and death in search and rescue missions.

“The reason we’re concerned about speed is that you can actually plot the chance of survival of a person trapped in rubble against time,” Haldane said. “And that plot never goes up. So the clock is always ticking.”

While this robot can jump high, how well the robot lands after consecutive jumps remains to be seen. The team eventually plans to place sensors on Salto and to test its maneuverability in complex terrains.