Researchers from North Carolina State University have designed a soft body robot inspired by the biometrics of cheetahs. The new robot, dubbed LEAP is capable of moving more quickly on solid surfaces or in water than previous generations of soft robots.
Researchers created their robot with a spring powered ‘bistable spine’, meaning the robot has two stable states. As the robot switches between these stable states air is rapidly pumped into channels that line the soft, silicone-based robot.
Each time the robot switches states it releases a large amount of energy, allowing it to exert force against the ground more quickly. This allows the robot to ‘gallop’ across a surface, meaning its feet leave the ground when running at full speed.
“Previous soft robots were crawlers, remaining in contact with the ground at all times. This limits their speed,” says Jie Yin, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State University.
Until now, the fastest soft robots had a top speed of up to 0.8 body lengths per second on flat, solid surfaces. The newly developed soft robot is three times faster than previous generations, reaching speeds of up to 2.7 body lengths per second.
The new robot is also capable of running up steep inclines, grabbing objects delicately, or with sufficient strength to lift heavy objects.
“By tuning the force exerted by the robots, we were able to lift objects as delicate as an egg, as well as objects weighing 10 kilograms or more,” says Yin.
The researchers note that this work serves as a proof of concept, and are optimistic that they can modify the design to make LEAP robots that are even faster and more powerful.
Take a look at the galloping robot below:
Image: NC State University