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It’s a Christmas miracle: someone taught this tiny robot to do parkour

It’s a Christmas miracle: someone taught this tiny robot to do parkour

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Leaping out of the labs at UC Berkeley and straight into my heart, it's SALTO: a robot designed not to deliver salty quips on the internet, as its name suggests, but to jump good. Real good. Pound for pound, this monopedal bot is the most agile jumper in the field of robotics, able to clear over a meter in height (around 3.3 feet) in a single leap. Its creators say it could be used one day in search and rescue missions, hopping over rubble and other obstacles. It’s too small to pull you to safety or deliver any supplies, but wouldn't you be happy to see it anyway?

SALTO actually stands for Saltatorial Locomotion on Terrain Obstacles. "Saltatorial" is a word used by biologists to refer to animals, particularly insects, that have limbs specialized for leaping. (And while we’re here in Cool Word Town, some similar morphological terms include "fossorial" or specialized for digging; and "raptorial," specialized for grasping.)

Stephen McNally

SALTO, just chilling in some leaves.

The bot stands just 26 centimeters tall, weighs 100 grams, and was modeled after the galago or bush baby. This is a small nocturnal primate (its name means "little night monkey" in Afrikaans), that also happens to be one of the animal kingdom’s greatest jumpers, able to clear more than 2.25 meters in a single leap despite being no bigger than a small cat.

Like the galago, SALTO stores energy in its legs in the form of stretchy tendons. Its default position is a sort of tensioned crouch, which allows it to jump instantly without having to wait to power up, a limitation on other leaping bots. This instant double-jump also lets it bounce off walls like a tiny parkour bot — gaining extra height in the process. In addition to its studied crouch, it also has a tail (that spinning rotary bar) borrowed from the leaping agama lizard that lets it control its direction in mid-flight. Despite all this, SALTO's jumps are still 22 percent less powerful than a bush baby's — but you can tell it's really trying.