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Robots reach new heights by ditching ‘biological jumper’ limitations

Scientists have developed a new robot that can jump over 100 feet into the air. They think it could eventually wind up on the moon.

(CN) — Once, robots could only jump so high. A group of engineers decided they could jump higher.

In general, robots can jump higher than animals if they have a ratcheted or rotary motor that can store energy through repeated strokes or rotations.

Published Wednesday in Springer Nature, a study by Elliot Hawkes and his colleagues reported on the design and creation of a robot that can jump over 98 feet high.

Hawkes is assistant professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, College of Engineering. The robot he and his colleagues created stands at just over 11 inches, weighs about an ounce and can jump as high as 108 feet.

By contrast, the average human can jump 1.6 feet into the air

How did the researchers come up with the idea to get the robots to jump higher? It started with observing what they called “biological jumpers” — humans and animals.

They examined two aspects of a jump: the maximum amount of energy that a jumper can create for a single jump and the efficiency in jump height. The authors found that with biological jumpers, their biological motor “is a linear muscle with a finite single stroke bounding its work capacity”.

The robots — called “engineered jumpers” in the study — can overcome this limitation to achieve greater heights. Called “work multiplication,” the researchers found a robot can use ratchets to combine multiple strokes while a rotary motor can repeatedly turn to combine multiple rotations. If the goal is to increase the number of strokes or rotations, it would be a simple matter of increasing the gear reduction between the motor stroke and the jumper’s overall motion.

That said, the authors note that in exchange for a higher jump capacity, the robot lacks the ability to adapt like humans and animals do. Humans and animals can focus the amount of energy they choose to put into each jump and adjust it accordingly. The robot exerts the same amount of energy in each jump — in short, they lack finesse.

Based on their findings, the authors theorize that the difference in energetics between biological and engineered jumpers means that they should have different designs for maximizing energy production for specific tasks. Also, this means that each group should have a limit on how high it can jump.

The authors say that jumping robots could overcome obstacles that only flying robots could do. In theory, the robots could collect vision-based data on the ground below.

Additionally, if these jumping robots were on the moon, where surface gravity is weaker, they would have the potential to jump to heights of 410 feet and travel up to a third of a mile in a single step. This ability could make the robots useful in exploring lunar terrain far more quickly than a rover could.

“Our work fundamentally advances the understanding of the ‘peculiarly attractive subject’ of jumping and underlines the importance of considering the differences between biological and engineered systems,” wrote the authors.

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