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Jumping robot features two intercepting hoops with a small rocket on the top.

This robot can jump more than 30 metres straight into the air!
Image: Hawkes Lab, UC Santa Barbara

What on Earth can jump the highest? Olympic high jumpers can clear more than 2 metres. Pumas might be the best animals at jumping, able to leap 7 metres into a tree. But a team of researchers from the USA have just made a robot that jumps higher than any animal!

To build their robot, the team deliberately decided not to copy an animal. Instead, they looked for areas where robots are different to animals.

Many animals have something springy to help them jump, but there’s a limit to how powerful the spring can be. If muscle can’t bend the spring, then it’s useless, so animals have small springs and big muscles. A robot can do better with a big spring and small motor to bend the spring.

Building for boinging

To make their jumping robot, the team started with big carbon-fibre bows that bend to create the spring. Then they added rubber bands to add more springiness and to make it stronger. Finally, they added lots of gears to its tiny motor to multiply its force and give it an advantage over a muscle.

Every time the motor rotates it only bends the spring a tiny amount. But over many spins the spring is fully stretched and full of energy. Then it releases all that energy at once, firing the robot straight up into the air.

When it’s released, the contraption can go from 0 to 100 kilometres an hour in 9 milliseconds. That’s highway speeds in the time it takes for a bee to flap its wings twice. And that speed is enough to reach heights of more than 30 metres! That’s about the height of a 10-storey building.

Jumping to the stars

an empty landscpe with a robot helicopter landing and taking off

NASA are planning a helicopter mission on Saturn’s moon Titan
Image: NASA

There are plenty of possible uses for jumping robots. NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has been exploring the surface of Mars for more than a year. Plus their Dragonfly mission might be flying around on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, in 2034. But helicopters need air or other gases to fly in, which means they don’t work in places without an atmosphere, including our Moon.

A jumping robot would be perfect for moving around the rough and airless terrain of the Moon. As an added bonus, the Moon’s weaker gravity and lack of wind resistance would allow a jumping robot to go much further.

“We calculated that the device should be able to clear 125 metres in height while jumping half of a kilometre forward on the Moon,” says Elliot Hawkes, who led the team. “That would be one giant leap for engineered jumpers.”

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  1. Am I correct that the acceleration would be approximately 300 g (on Earth)?
    I calculate an acceleration of 3,086 ms/s/s if the robot reaches 100 km/h in 9 ms.

    1. Yup! According to the press release:
      “… these design features allow it to speed up from 0 to 60 mph in 9 meters per second — an acceleration force of 315g — and reach the roughly 100-foot height in the researchers’ demonstrations.”

      1. I just realised the press release has a weird typo in it where they confused milliseconds and metres per second!


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