A robot has been created that has smashed records to become the highest jumper to date, engineered or biological. The lightweight and aerodynamic machine can reach heights of around 100 feet (30 meters), being able to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph or nine meters per second. The study, published in Nature, claims the device is “near the feasible limit of jump height with currently available materials.”
Nature vs machine
Biological jumpers have been a source of inspiration for engineering jumping as a form of locomotion, with scientists replicating evolutionary designs from nature to great effect. However, the research team, led by Elliot Hawkes at UC Santa Barbara, wanted to push this one step further and outsmart mother nature to produce an even more impressive jumping device.
“There hadn’t really been a study that compares and contrasts the two and how their limits are different — whether engineered jumpers are really limited to the same laws that biological jumpers are,” explained Hawkes.
How could the robot jump so high?
Biological systems can only jump as high as the amount of energy that can be exerted in a single stroke of their muscle. The team used this as inspiration to focus on inputting as much energy as possible into the robot’s motor, from this, the idea to use motors that ratchet or rotate was born. Using such motors allows for “work multiplication,” where the amount of energy that is stored in its spring is amplified and results in large energy production.
The end product ended up looking and behaving extremely differently from animal jumpers. The machine’s motor carried nearly 100 times greater than the equivalent found in their animal counterparts. Furthermore, finding an animal that is made out of a hybrid tension-compression spring, carbon-fiber compression bows, and stretching rubber bands, would be pretty hard! “Surprisingly, the rubber makes the compression bow-spring stronger,” Hawkes said. “You can compress the spring further without it breaking.”
Why are jumping robots useful?
The purpose of this study was to test the limits of jumping robotic design and to gain a deeper understanding of how jumping could be used as a form of locomotion. Jumpers would be incredible for space exploration, being able to clear obstacles on the surface efficiently while still accessing perspectives from above.
Take the moon for example, where gravity is one-sixth of it is on earth with no air resistance: “We calculated that the device should be able to clear 125 meters in height while jumping half of a kilometer forward on the moon,” said Hawkes. “That would be one giant leap for engineered jumpers.”
Source study: Nature – Engineered jumpers overcome biological limits via work multiplication