Leaping parkour robot is cute and a little creepy

A lightweight version of the cockroach-inspired RHex robot tackles basic parkour moves with gusto.

XRL RHex robot
XRL is ready to leap into action. University of Pennsylvania

Parkour, the art of navigating the urban environment using your wits, athleticism, and leaping ability, has been the domain of humans. Now, a small robot wants to get in on the fun. The RHex robot is building up its parkour skills and trying them out by performing flips in the air and leaping onto obstacles.

RHex stands for "robot hexapod." The little machine sports six springy legs that rotate around, giving it an air of plucky self-importance as it makes its way across the ground. RHex has been in development based on a platform created over a decade ago, but its ability to tackle parkour exercises represents an evolution in its abilities. The new, lightweight version is know as XRL, or X-RHex Lite.

RHex XRL is in training for taking on missions in difficult places, such as collapsed buildings in disaster areas. That's the kind of place where the ability to jump up to higher levels and leap across open spaces could really come in handy.

"What we want is a robot that can go anywhere, even over terrain that might be broken and uneven. These latest jumps greatly expand the range of what this machine is capable of, as it can now jump onto or across obstacles that are bigger than it is," says University of Pennsylvania graduate student Aaron Johnson.

It's a good thing RHex XRL is programmed to help humankind. Its jumping ability would add a really creepy aspect to the robots-conquer-Earth scenario that's so popular in science fiction.

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