Scientists sometimes look to nature for inspiration when designing robots. Why not take advantage of the hundreds of years of optimization work evolution has already done?
Nicholas Bartlett and colleagues at Harvard University, the University of California in San Diego, and Weill Cornell Medical College did just that when making a robot that hops like a frog, they reported in Science.
Unlike a frog, the robot powers its hops with a small explosion of butane and oxygen. Close up in slow motion, it looks a little like a miniature rocket taking off:
The natural inspiration comes in with the robot's soft body, which mimics the bodies of animals like snakes and insect larvae.
The stiffness of the body gradually transitions from the bottom, which is flexible like rubber, to the top that's hard like plastic. The gradual transition, rather than an abrupt change from flexible to hard, minimizes stress on the body and absorbs the shock from landing.
Minimizing stress makes the robot more durable, and the special animal-inspired structure also enables the robot to control where it jumps by inflating its legs.
You can watch the robot take a couple more jumps in this video from Science:
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