News: Meet SALTO, UC Berkeley's Bushbaby-Inspired Robot with Insane Leaping Skills

Meet SALTO, UC Berkeley's Bushbaby-Inspired Robot with Insane Leaping Skills

It's odd to see grown humans attempting to bounce off walls doing parkour. It's another thing altogether to see a robot doing it.

University of California Berkeley's Biomimetic Millisystems Lab has created the world's most vertically agile robot—capable of jumping to unimaginable heights. Meet SALTO, the Saltatorial Locomotion Terrain Obstacle that can jump up to 1 meter high from stand still, and do it faster than any other robot out there.

The engineers behind SALTO drew inspiration from the galago, a small, nocturnal mammal native to Africa. These animals, also called thick-tailed bush babies, have longer hind legs that give them great leaping ability. They have the highest vertical jump of any animal, and served as inspiration for SALTO.

The SALTO robot jumps higher than a bullfrog, but not as high as its animal inspiration, the galago. This chart doesn't include explosion-powered robots, because, c'mon. Jump Frequency, in this chart, is how often the robot or animal make make such a jump (per second). Image via Haldane, et. al, Science Robotics, 2016.

Engineers noticed that, before jumping, galagos entered a "super crouch" that allowed the mammal to generate more energy to increase jump height. According to the video, they incorporated this super crouch into SALTO, which "allows the motor to stretch out the spring to keep the robot crouched for longer." No other non-tethered robot can jump as high, as frequently, as SALTO.

Like galagos, SALTO can also string multiple jumps together, giving the robot even more height and range. This behavior also, hilariously, makes the robot look like it's doing parkour.

Images by UC Berkeley/YouTube

Advanced robots using the SALTO technology could be used during search and rescue missions in uneven terrain. According to study researcher Duncan Haldane:

With the motivation of urban search and rescue, what we want to do is try to do extended behaviors with SALTO, chain together a series of jumps to get to places you weren't able to before.

Given how successful their first version of this robot has been, it will be exciting to see where the lab decides to take SALTO and how its technology can be applied to real-world situations. For more specifics and details on SALTO and the researchers' work, check out the full paper that was released back in December in the journal Science Robotics.

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Cover photo from Elephant Plains Game Lodge on Instagram and the Biomimetic Millisystems Lab.

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