A legless soft robot capable of rapid, continuous, and steerable jumping is reported in Nature Communications. The findings provide a novel approach to produce agile multimodal locomotion in a tethered model robot.
Jumping is important for some robots to extend navigation range, overcome obstacles, and adapt to unstructured environments. Until now, enhancing the jumping height and distance of soft robots to improve their ability to cross obstacles, while also maintaining the ability to control their jumping frequency to increase manoeuvrability and navigation, has been challenging.
Rui Chen and colleagues developed a robot weighing 1 gram and measuring 6.5 centimetres in length with an internal structure that enables it to jump forward, powered by flexible, electrical-driven liquid redistribution. The authors show that the robot is capable of jumping 7.68 times its own body height and has a continuous forward jumping speed of 6 body lengths per second. They also demonstrate that the robot is able to cross obstacles including slopes, wires, gravel mounds and shaped cubes. By coupling together two actuators (a component that makes the robot move), the robot was capable of steered jumping at a speed of 138.4 degrees per second.
Chen and co-authors also demonstrate that other functional electronic devices, such as sensors, can be integrated into the actuators for diverse applications such as detecting environmental changes, and suggest further structural optimizations can be made to improve the jumping performance of soft robots. Future research into tetherless alternatives would advance the versatility of these soft robots, the authors conclude.
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