This Robot Can Leap Nine Stories in One Jump, Will Go Even Higher on Moon

Researchers say this is the highest achieved by any known natural or manufactured jumper.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Eric Mack has been a CNET contributor since 2011. Eric and his family live 100% energy and water independent on his off-grid compound in the New Mexico desert. Eric uses his passion for writing about energy, renewables, science and climate to bring educational content to life on topics around the solar panel and deregulated energy industries. Eric helps consumers by demystifying solar, battery, renewable energy, energy choice concepts, and also reviews solar installers. Previously, Eric covered space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
Expertise Solar, solar storage, space, science, climate change, deregulated energy, DIY solar panels, DIY off-grid life projects, and CNET's "Living off the Grid" series Credentials
  • Finalist for the Nesta Tipping Point prize and a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Eric Mack
2 min read

The unnamed engineering jumper loaded for a leap. 

Brian Long, Amy Hao, Chris Keeley and Elliot Hawkes

In countless superhero movies, characters' abilities to leap to absurd heights fuel over-the-top fight scenes and strain storylines. Now, researchers have developed a simple robot that can actually scale tall buildings in a single bound. 

The mechanical jumper, developed by a team led by UC Santa Barbara engineering professor Elliot Hawkes, can reach a height of roughly 100 feet (30 meters). The researchers say this is the highest achieved by any known natural or manufactured jumper.

"To our knowledge far higher than previous engineered jumpers and over an order of magnitude higher than the best biological jumpers," reads a study on the work published last week in the journal Nature. 

Sarah Bergbeiter from Carnegie Mellon University's department of mechanical engineering, who was not involved in the research, points out in a companion commentary in Nature that some organisms can jump much higher relative to their own body weights.

"A tiny insect known as a froghopper can jump to a height of 70 centimeters (28 inches), which is a staggering 115 times its body length."

The robot, which weighs less than half an ounce, consists of a small motor connected to a spring made up of carbon-fiber compression bows flexed by rubber bands connected to a spindle driven by the motor. 

"Surprisingly, the rubber makes the compression bow-spring stronger," Hawkes said in a statement. "You can compress the spring further without it breaking."

In the above video, the device can be seen jumping to the top of a cliff and then righting itself as it reloads its spring in preparation for the next jump. 

While you can imagine the exciting potential for such a robot to deliver a bag of Cheetos via a third-story window, Hawkes has his eyes on a much higher goal. 

"We calculated that the device should be able to clear 125 meters (410 feet) in height while jumping half of a kilometer forward on the moon," he said.

Back on Earth, drones could soon have some competition when it comes to reaching new heights, and my nightmares will feature a new sort of robot.