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Meet Salto, the Animal-Inspired Robot with Superior Jumping Abilities

Kirstin Fawcett
Stephen McNally/UC Berkeley
Stephen McNally/UC Berkeley / Stephen McNally/UC Berkeley

Meet Salto, a tiny jumping robot inspired by nature. Robotics experts at the University of California-Berkeley designed the adorable, one-legged bot to leap like the bush baby, or galago. Those small primates, native to eastern (and parts of Sub-Saharan) Africa, possess the ability to soar nearly 7 feet into the air in a single hop. Salto reportedly has the highest robotic vertical jumping agility ever recorded, and according to LiveScience, researchers hope to someday harness this ability to quickly scan rubble in search-and-rescue missions.

Salto (which is short for Saltatorial Locomotion Terrain Obstacles) stands 10 inches high, and weighs a mere .2 pounds. But what the robot lacks in size, it makes up for in nimbleness. Salto can leap to heights of more than 3 feet—and then jump again, and again. (Other robots can technically jump higher than Salto, but they have to "wind up" before repeating the process.) The speedy automaton can also climb at a rate of nearly 6 feet per second, faster than any other machine of its kind.

Salto is the brainchild of UC-Berkeley’s Biomimetic Millisystems Lab, and its members recently published news of its existence in the journal Science Robotics. The study’s lead author—Duncan Haldane, a robotics PhD student—said he was inspired to create a machine like Salto after conversing with first responders at an urban search-and-rescue training site. He envisioned a gadget that was tiny (and quick) enough to move through the rubble without dislodging it.

A machine like the one Haldane described would have to have superior jumping abilities, so he and his lab mates searched the animal kingdom for an animal with the requisite "vertical jumping agility”—a term they use to describe "the ratio of the maximum jump height to the time it takes to complete one jump.” The winner ended up being the bush baby, which can leap between tree branches at 7 feet per second.

The secret to the African primate’s famous jump is its legs: They’re able to crouch ultra-low toward the ground, which allows them to store energy in their tendons and release it en masse seconds later.

"Animals adapted specifically for jumping have this kind of super-crouch posture," Haldane explains in a video recorded by UC-Berkeley. "The longer they stay in a crouch, the more energy they can transfer into their tendons and the more energy they can return for jumping. So we built into Salto the capability for a super-crouch."

Salto’s “tendon” is a latex spring that’s attached to its motor, which twists before it lifts off to create—and release—jumping energy. It can’t jump quite like the bush baby, which can jump 2.24 meters per second. However, Salto comes close, with 1.75 meters per second.

Watch Salto in action in the video below.

[h/t LiveScience]