We’ve got robots that look like people—now we have one that looks like a frog. Or at least hops like one. Using 3D printers, roboticists have designed a three-legged mechanical critter with a squishy exterior and a rigid interior that is more durable, safe, and adaptable than the strictly rigid variety. It also hops. Inside the robot’s core, a small, controlled explosion powers each leap. Though an “explosion-powered” robot may not intuitively sound safe, the soft-body, combustion-based system is actually safer than traditional inflexible robots. Butane and oxygen combust to give lift off, then, without any tethered help, the soft, flexible body of the bot cushions the landing (as seen in the video above). The combination of different materials also offers more directional control—inflatable legs dictate more precisely where the robot jumps. Once turned on, the robot’s programming takes care of the rest, and it operates without any human assistance. Researchers add that printing a single robot comprised of multiple materials offers many advantages over traditional building techniques, opening doors to even more mechanically intricate designs. Looking forward, these robots could help carry out a number of tasks that humans are either too big or too scared to do themselves, like maneuvering disaster sites, or even space exploration. In unpredictable terrain, like on Mars or the moon, the resilience and mobility of the robot would be a huge advantage. Plus, in low gravity imagine how high it would jump.
(Video credit: Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering; Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences)