Intelligent Machines

This Parkour Robot Easily Bounces Its Way Over Obstacles

With a spinning tail and small thrusters, it has total control over its orientation in mid-air so that it’s always ready for the next hop.

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Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have updated their parkour robot, and the results would make any free-runner green with envy.

Late last year, we wrote about Duncan Haldane’s Salto robot. It was impressive: weighing mere ounces and standing just a few inches tall, it crouched low, jumped high, and could quickly prepare for another jump. That meant that it could, say, bounce itself off walls.

The only problem was that the small spinning tail it used to control its aerial orientation could control it only along one axis—known as pitch, as on an airplane. That meant it could only jump forward and backward, and then only for few hops at a time, because if it went off balance along the other two axes it would fall to the left or right.

Now, though, IEEE Spectrum reports that Salto has been upgraded: say hello to Salto-1P. The addition of two small thrusters, like propellers from a quadcopter drone, allows it to adjust its orientation in the two other directions, known as roll and yaw, as it moves through the air. It can also crouch lower, enabling it to jump a little farther. (It’s worth noting that it’s not autonomous—a computer is working out how it should move and wirelessly beaming it instructions.)

You can see the impressive results of those upgrades in the clips above. Now, Salto-1P can bounce forward and backward many times over, move side to side to cover the entire floor of a room, and even traverse obstacles like foam blocks and a ramp.  

(Read more: IEEE Spectrum, “This Super-Springy Robot Can Do Parkour”)