A jumping robot made of squishy and rigid parts can leap with accuracy and survive impacts.

The device is a big leap forward (ahem!) for future soft-bodied robots that might be able to wiggle through tight spaces, leap over obstacles and maintain its performance in unpredictable terrain that might be inaccessible or even too dangerous for humans. Disaster and war zones come to mind.

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The robot, developed by a team of Harvard researchers lead by Nicholas Bartlett, was made using a multi-material 3-D printer instead of a custom mold — which is the typical procedure. The team printed the body in nine different layers, ranging from rubbery to rigid.

The robot’s rigid core houses key components on the top of its body, including a battery and air compressor. Softer components make up the body and its three legs, which are responsible for jumping and landing.

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To jump, the robot inflates one leg in order to tilt its body in a particular direction. A combination of butane and oxygen housed up top is ignited in a spark of combustion. Once ignited, the “body,” which is essentially a huge balloon, inflates rapidly pushing the robot off the ground and causing it to leap into the air.

Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

These nature-inspired robots, which mimic some of the functions of snakes and insect larvae, are adaptable, safer and more resilient than their rigid counterparts — thanks to the blending of the softer materials.

The research was published in today's issue of Science.