The robots over at UC Berkeley are bouncing off the walls. Literally.
Engineers in the university's robotics program have designed a small and extremely agile robot that uses an entirely different form of locomotion than anything previously built. Dubbed Salto, the little bot can make multiple vertical jumps in sequence, bouncing off walls and other surfaces to climb to several meters into the air.
Salto, which stands for "saltatorial locomotion on terrain obstacles," has a pretty impressive first jump. Standing at a little over 10 inches tall, and weighing in at 3.5 ounces, it can jump more than three feet straight up from a standstill.
But Salto's leaping ability becomes really impressive when it starts to string those jumps together. By caroming off facing vertical surfaces, Salto can "wall-jump" at a potential rate of 1.75 meters per second. The designers hope that the 'bot can be useful in rescue scenarios, carrying sensors and bouncing off of rubble in search-and-rescue scenarios Duncan Haldane, roboticist with the Berkeley's Biomimetic Millisystems Lab, said the team was inspired to design the Salto after speaking with first responders at a local Urban Search and Rescue Training site.
"They have these giant rubble piles simulating collapsed buildings," Haldane said. "Our goal was to have a search and rescue robot small enough to not disturb the rubble further but able move quickly across the many kinds of rubble produced by collapsed buildings."
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That's when they started to look at monkeys.
In robotics, biomimetics refers to a design approach in which robots are modeled on animals or natural processes. In the case of Salto, the robot is designed to mimic the movements of the galago, a small African primate that's considered among the most agile creatures in the animal kingdom. Also known as "bushbabies," galagos bounce their way up adjacent trees by leaping from one vertical surface to the next. Using this technique, galagos can reach heights of up to 30 feet in under five seconds.
In the very fun demo video (see below), Haldane said the team was also inspired by parkour, the extreme sport in which runners traverse crowded urban environments by jumping, climbling and vaulting off various objects and surfaces.
The key to Salto's leaping abilities is a series of springs and elastic actuators that store energy after each jump, Haldane said. Salto basically resets itself into a crouch position in mid-air, so it's ready to leap again when it comes in contact with another surface.
"The special thing we built into this robot is they can get really, really low into crouch and have more time to stretch out their tendons, and then store energy that way and release it," Haldane said.
Down the line, the Berkeley team hopes to incorporate cameras and object recognition systems, so that Salto can map its environment and pick its way up, over and around various obstacles.
Details on Salto and its locomotion technology were published Dec. 6 in the debut edition of the journal Science Robotics.
Watch Salto in action.