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Watch this tiny robot do a backflip

Robots can go to Mars, but don’t ask them to jump. Our metal companions are clumsy and stiff. (Just watch them fall.) In a new study, scientists rectified this handicap by drawing inspiration from more than 20 animals, including fleas, mountain goats, and even humans, specifically parkour artists who basically perform improvised outdoor gymnastics. They drew most of their inspiration from a small nocturnal primate called a galago, or, more commonly, a bush baby. Bush babies have a unique adaptation called power modulation that allows them to quickly build up and store energy in their tendons then release it rapidly to launch off the ground in a leap 15 times more powerful than what their muscles could do alone. The robot the team designed is named Salto—a play on saltatorial locomotion, a fancy name for two-legged jumping movement, and the famous sled dog Balto, because the researchers hope agile bots like this can assist in search-and-rescue missions someday. Unlike the bush baby, the bot has a spring instead of tendons. It also has a tail that can move up and down to adjust its body midair, a trick borrowing from the leaping agama lizard. At 100 grams, Salto weighs as much as a regular-size Snickers bar, but it has a fully extended height of 26 centimeters. All the robot’s traits culminate in its signature trick: the wall jump. Just like a parkour artist, Salto leaps at a wall, reorients in midair, propels off the wall, and, finally, soars to new heights—sometimes ending in a backflip for added flair, the team reports today in Science Robotics. As cool as the wall jump is, though, the bot can’t quite best the jumping ability of the bush baby. Salto’s jumps are 22% less powerful than the cuddly creature’s. Even still, this is, quite literally, a giant leap for robot-kind.