Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound!
Well, not yet, but scientists at Harvard and the University of California, San Diego, have created a tiny, Superman-like robot that can jump about 2.5 feet in the air—about six times its height.
The robot, which is about the size of a soccer ball, has a 3D-printed chassis with a flexible, inflatable base, which allows it to jump up and stay in one piece when it comes down. To jump, the robot inflates its legs, and then triggers a small explosion of ignited gas that shoots it skyward. The robot, powered by a mixture of butane and oxygen, can do more than 30 untethered jumps, the research team said in its launch video.
Not only can the robot jump ridiculously high for its diminutive size, it can also jump forward on uneven ground. The robot’s pneumatic legs can raise to different angles before it explodes upward, propelling the little robot in a specific direction.
The robot is the latest to mimic animal nimbleness—yet another example of scientists turning to nature for inspiration, because as it turns out, evolution got a lot right when it came to design. This model was inspired by a certain species of mollusk that turns rigid when it touches a rock, according to Engadget.
This isn’t the Harvard team’s first jumping robot. An earlier model they produced in 2014 did not land with the grace of 2015’s mollusk version, and its design was somewhat more organic-looking: