Robots have plenty to learn from animals. Movements that are a natural part of biological intelligence, like jumping, are incredibly complicated to recreate from scratch in a machine. And so engineers at Johns Hopkins University are taking a close look at those inveterate leapers, crickets, in an attempt to gain some insights about the mechanics behind the action. 

Led by mechanical engineering professor Rajat Mittal, the team spent eight months using high-speed video to figure out how spider crickets can jump 60 times their body length (the equivalent of a human jumping 300 feet in one go) and land safely on their feet. Their research will be presented later this month at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics [PDF]. Much of the testing was done by Emily Palmer, a sophomore at Johns Hopkins’ undergraduate engineering school.

When they fling themselves into the air, the crickets streamline their bodies to become like little projectiles, maximizing their distance, and using their limbs to stabilize their flight. In slow motion, the movements begin to look a little like a dance. 

The analogy that comes to mind is of a ballerina performing a ballet,” Mittal says in a press release. “It’s a very beautiful, controlled, intricate motion.”

Banner image screenshot via YouTube / Johns Hopkins University