To propel itself higher than any known engineered jumper or animal can, it had to ignore the limits...
Their 30-centimeter-tall jumper can spring more than 30 meters into the air-roughly the elevation of a 10-story building and 100 times its own height.
"The best animal jumper is likely the galago, which has been measured jumping around 2.3 meters high from a standstill," says Elliot W. Hawkes, a mechanical engineer at U.C. Santa Barbara and lead author of a study detailing the superjumper project.
"It jumps much higher than most of the rest of the jumping robots in the world do-if not all of them that I'm aware of," says Sarah Bergbreiter, a mechanical engineer at Carnegie Mellon University, who was not involved in the new study but wrote an accompanying commentary about it.
In this kind of jumping system, a part called an actuator moves and stores energy in a spring, which is released by a latch to propel an object into the air.
For any elastic-based jumper, attainable height is determined by the amount of energy the spring can store-and this, in turn, depends on two factors.
In animals, muscles have only one contraction with which they can stretch their "Spring." But for the actuator in the new mechanical jumper, the engineers used a motor-which could turn multiple times before each jump and thus keep storing more energy.
The second factor in an elastic jumper's prowess is the spring's ability to hold as much energy as possible without packing on too much extra weight.
"Jumping, in some sense, is a wonderful way of getting around because you can jump over obstacles that might be in your path," Bergbreiter notes, "Whereas you don't have a lot of the complexity that comes from trying to fly over those obstacles or navigate around those obstacles with legs." Hawkes is especially eager to develop jumping bots for space exploration; he points out that his device could soar to even more impressive distances in an airless, low-gravity environment.
"On the moon, our device could theoretically jump forward half of a kilometer while going 125 meters high in a single leap," he says.
Many jumping robots are designed, in part, to help researchers study how beings from fleas to humans hurl their bodies into the air.