The Sand Flea weighs 11 pounds, and on flat ground it drives like a typical radio-controlled car. But when it meets an obstacle, it can jump 30 feet into the air. That's high enough to reach the top of a flight of stairs, the roof of a typical house, the other side of a high wall, or jump through a second-story window. It can jump about 25 times on a single charge.
Sand Flea uses gyro-stabilization, a technique employed for stabilizing radio-controlled flying vehicles, as well as movie cameras used in the film industry. This provides a clear view from the robot's onboard camera, and helps it stay level during flight and ensure a smooth landing.
The four-wheeled 11-lb Sand Flea robot can jump 30 ft into the air, and uses gyro-stabilization to stay level during flight and ensure a smooth landing. (Source: Boston Dynamics)
The six-legged RHex robot's mobility is based loosely on the behavior of a cockroach. It works especially well on loose sandy soil, river banks, mud, rocky inclines, railroad tracks, and up telephone poles, slopes, and stairways. Its body is entirely sealed and it can swim or dive underwater.
RHex runs for up to six hours on a single battery charge and weighs 30 pounds, so it can fit into a backpack. It is controlled remotely up to 600 meters from the operator control unit. Front and rear views from onboard cameras are accessed over a video uplink. RHex also uplinks navigational data from an onboard compass and GPS and from its payload.
Boston Dynamics is the well-known developer of the first robots to run and maneuver with motions based on animals, such as the BigDog, Petman, Cheetah, and AlphaDog.
Watch videos of each of these robotic bugs in action:
Rob, I'm glad you enjoy my stories about biomimicry: they are sure fun to research and write. But as a student of military history, I have to disagree with you about how wars are won. Superior technology is not enough to do the job in all or even most cases. I have one word for you: "Vietnam." I have another: "Lawrence of Arabia." (OK, that was three words, but it's an excellent example.) TE Lawrence led not very well-armed Arabs against very well-armed Turks with superior technology and won because of superior strategy and tactics, superior knowledge of terrain, and superior military intelligence and bravado. There have also been many other situations where a smaller force with equal technology beat the heck out of a larger force. Celtic tribes beat the Romans for several centuries B.C. long before the Romans wised up, borrowed Celtic tactics, improved their own technology, and got more disciplined.
Al, I think you've basically answered Beth's question: If you need a critter that jumps extremely high and can land in weird places, a sand flea is a good candidate, and cockroaches can crawl over just about any surface. Boston Dynamics has already designed and built several other robots based on animal movement, so I suspect it didn't take much extra thought in the creative process to consider the "what if" of insects.
Good point about war prompting innovation. Wars are won almost exclusively on which side has the superior technology in the greatest quantity, whether it's horses in the West or atom bombs in the East.
Beth, it has always been the case that wars bring innovation. These units will be tested in theatre. The conditions will be demanding and threats real. If they prove useful it will be a big boost for this type of technology.
Ann, Good article. It's amazing the diversity of mobile robots but who would have imagined a robot that behaves like a cockroach that can move over a wide variety of rough terrain, plus climb telephone poles and stairs. Or a sand flea that can jump 30 feet in the air when it meets an obstacle. Is the appliation for these designs the equivalent of drones that can move over the terrain?
I saw a New Yorker cartoon recently where two cowboys were riding along, one on a horse, the other on a giant grasshopper. The caption comes from the cowboy on the grasshopper. He says, "This will all make sense when we get to the next canyon."
Ann's stories about materials and contrations coming from natrue are getting ever more interesting.
I have to admit, the references to sand fleas and cockroaches really got to me. The idea of developing robots based on animal behaviors makes perfect sense, but I have to ask, why sand fleas and roaches?? It's amazing that the connection was made between the movements of these bugs and the desired movements for these robots for their potential applications. All I can say is, Yuck!
Are they robots or androids? We're not exactly sure. Each talking, gesturing Geminoid looks exactly like a real individual, starting with their creator, professor Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University in Japan.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.