A robot that could cover half a kilometre per jump on the moon may be the ideal lunar exploration vehicle
27 April 2022
A robot that can jump over 100 times its own height could leap over challenging terrain on the moon and explore the rocky surface more quickly than a wheeled rover, say researchers.
Elliot Hawkes at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and his colleagues developed a robot just 30 centimetres tall that can leap to a height of 32.9 metres powered by a carbon fibre sprung skeleton.
Hawkes says that the maximum jumping height of animals is limited by the work their muscles can produce in a single stroke. But the new robot uses a tiny motor to tension its springs over many rotations. It jumps only when it has stored a large amount of energy.
The robot weighs just 30 grams and uses a system of gears to slowly compress the springs despite having only a small motor. This energy is then released rapidly to launch the robot into the sky. Once it lands on its side, it can right itself by re-tensioning its spring and prepare itself for another jump.
Hawkes says that the same robot on the moon would be able to reach heights of 125 metres and traverse around half a kilometre per leap, making it the ideal exploration machine. “The moon is a truly ideal location for jumping,” he says. “Gravity is one-sixth that of Earth, and there is basically no air.” He says that, on Earth, about 25 per cent of the potential jump height is lost to air drag.
“[The robot] could hop onto the side of an inaccessible cliff or leap into the bottom of a crater, take samples and return to a wheeled rover,” says Hawkes.
Pietro Valdastri at the University of Leeds, UK, says that the design achieves a height of robot jumping that has never been managed before. “This technology has a great potential to be integrated into robots designed to rescue people after disasters like earthquakes or tsunamis,” he says.
Journal reference: Nature, DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04606-3
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