Explosive 3D-printed robot that jumps like a frog

15 Jul 2015

Roboticists in the US have 3D printed a weird robot that has a soft exterior, rigid exterior and hops like a frog. A combination of butane and oxygen combusts to power the little guy into the air.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego, Weill Cornell Medical College and Harvard worked together to develop the robot, which can repetitively leap up to six times it’s own height, landing square every time.

When looking at it all slowed down, the take off looks a bit like a rocket, with cylindrical barrel legs housing the gases that propel the robot into the air.

Frog robot leap

To leap, the robot inflates its legs before a mixture of butane and oxygen is ignited in a central chamber. By using the legs both directionally as well as for landing, it can then leap up and down like a frog.

“We believe that bringing together soft and rigid materials will help create a new generation of fast, agile robots that are more robust and adaptable than their predecessors and can safely work side-by-side with humans,” said Michael Tolley, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at UC San Diego.

Frog robot, once you crack it’s hard exterior…

The robot’s stiffness is based around its head, with softer, more flexible materials more prominent as you move towards its base.

As Business Insider reports, the gradual transition, rather than an abrupt change from flexible to hard, minimises stress on the body and absorbs the shock from landing.

“The idea of blending soft and hard materials into the robot’s body came from nature. In nature, complexity has a very low cost,” said Tolley.

“Using new manufacturing techniques like 3D printing, we’re trying to translate this to robotics.”

The reasoning behind creating this robot is thoughts of a future where soft-bodied robots are required to work in tight places.

The fear of these becoming crushed, or not retaining the relevant power to complete tasks, saw the researchers look towards gaseous explosions.

The paper, filed in Science, highlights the need for a gradual shift from harder shells to softer ones, with three orders of magnitude taken into consideration.

This enables “reliable interfacing” between the elements needed to propel the device (controller, battery, etc…) and the primarily soft body.

Main image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic