Meet Salto, the most agile wall-jumping robot ever built

7 Dec 2016

Salto, the incredibly agile robot. Image: Stephen McNally/UC Berkeley

Robotics researchers are once again turning to nature for inspiration as new robot Salto has achieved the highest robotic vertical jumping agility ever recorded.

When we think of what it means to be an agile robot, we tend to think of some of the creations of Boston Dynamics, which we have seen travelling across difficult terrain with ease.

But a new robot from University of California Berkeley has taken this to a whole new level – quite literally.

Called Salto (saltatorial locomotion on terrain obstacles), this little robot has been designed to replicate nature’s most vertically agile creature, the galago, which can jump five times in just four seconds to gain a combined height of 8.5 metres.

The creature is able to do this because of a special ability that allows it to store energy in its tendons, meaning that it can jump to heights not achievable by its muscles alone.

But, in order for Salto to achieve this, the research team – led by Duncan Haldane – had to develop an entirely new metric to measure vertical agility.

This is defined by the height that something can reach with a single jump in Earth gravity, multiplied by the frequency at which that jump can be made.

So, in this case, Salto’s ability to vertically jump at a height of 1.75 metres per second makes it better than a bullfrog at 1.71 metres per second, but leaves it far behind the galago at 2.24 metres per second.

Could soon match performance of animals

Publishing its findings in the journal Science Robotics, the team explained that Salto was able to achieve this by its internal motor, which drives a spring to crouch the robot in a similar stance to the galago.

By using power modulation, Salto doesn’t need to wind up before a jump. As soon as it jumps, Salto is ready to jump again.

This gives it 78pc of the vertical jumping ability of the galago, far surpassing previous records, which managed 55pc.

Haldane’s professor, Ronald Fearing, said of Salto’s design: “By combining biologically inspired design principles with improved engineering technology, matching the agile performance of animals may not be that far off.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic