New robot boasts unprecedented vertical agility

Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley say their new robot boasts is the most vertically agile yet created. The small robot can perform several vertical jumps in a row, as well as spring onto and off a wall.

Scientists modeled the robot after the galago, a lemur-like primate from Africa. Galagos store a tremendous amount of energy in their tendons, allowing the primates to jump five times in just four seconds, reaching 27.9 feet.

Researchers named their new robot Salto, short for “saltatorial locomotion on terrain obstacles.” Salto’s creators hope the bot’s vertical agility will inspire future robots capable of scaling piles of rubble during search and rescue missions.

The robotics team created a new metric to measure Salto’s abilities. Vertical agility combines the size of a single bound with the frequency at which the jump can be executed in succession. Salto boasts a vertical agility of 5.7 feet per second. The agility of a bullfrog is 5.6 feet per second. Galagos top the chart with an agility of 7.35 feet per second.

“Developing a metric to easily measure vertical agility was key to Salto’s design because it allowed us to rank animals by their jumping agility and then identify a species for inspiration,” Duncan Haldane, a robotics Ph.D. candidate at Berkeley, said in a news release.

Like galagos, Salto uses a crouched position to store up energy in its leg mechanism. This ability is called series-elastic power modulation. The motorized spring action stores tremendous energy, which when released, launches Salto. The mechanism quickly reloads and is ready to release fresh energy as soon as Salto lands.

“By combining biologically inspired design principles with improved engineering technology, matching the agile performance of animals may not be that far off,” said Ronald Fearing, a professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences.