A new robot built at UC Berkeley is out to prove that size doesn't matter when it comes to leaping into the air. The Saltatorial Locomotion on Terrain Obstacles (or SALTO) robot might be compact, but that hasn't stopped it from boasting what is described as the highest vertical jumping agility of any robot, with the ability to bounce off walls thanks to a mechanism inspired by a certain tree-hopping primate.

Looking to compare the jumping agility of its robot with the best of the animal kingdom, the team at UC Berkeley were led to develop a new metric, called vertical agility. The team define this as the height something can reach with a single jump, multiplied by how often that jump can be made. That means animals (or robots) with an incredible vertical leap that cannot be quickly repeated are graded lower than animals that can keep right on hopping.

The SALTO robot managed a vertical jumping agility of 1.75 meters/second, putting it ahead of the bullfrog, but behind the 2.24 meters/second of the galago. The second best robot tested by the team at UC Berkeley, called Minitaur, managed 1.1 meters/second.

Galagos, also known as bush babies, are native to continental Africa. The furry creature is actually able to store energy in its tendons, allowing it to follow its initial jump up with another powerful leap without landing and reloading. This allows it to spring from tree-to-tree. But where the galago keeps energy in its tendons to load up for its second jump, SALTO uses a power modulation system for this purpose. As soon as it is airborne, it's ready to bounce off walls thanks to a motor-driven spring, which mimics the crouch of a galago.

The robot weighs in at 100 grams (3.5 oz) and measures 26 cm (10.2 in) tall when it's fully extended. It can jump up to one meter on its own, but managed an average height gain of 1.21 m (3.97 ft) in wall jumps – where it jumps off the ground before boosting higher again off a wall nearby.

The SALTO robot is designed to tackle rough terrain and help access hard to reach places in search and rescue scenarios. Ultimately, the team aims to use it to hop up and over obstacles in disaster zones, where broken bits of rubble could serve as stepping stones to higher ground.

"By combining biologically inspired design principles with improved engineering technology, matching the agile performance of animals may not be that far off," says Duncan Haldane, a robotics Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley. The findings from UC Berkeley's research has been published in the journal Science Robotics.

You can check out the SALTO in the video below.

Source: UC Berkeley