When you think about it, there’s no reason for robots to look like humans, or even like robots! A delightful bouncing bot named Salto shows why. It’s modeled after the galago, or Senegalese bush baby — a tiny primate with powerful legs that can leap meters into the air. And, like bush babies, Salto is perfect: truly, a robot I would love to call my own.
Alas, there’s only one Salto and it’s the work of researchers at UC Berkely. Since it was first unveiled in 2016, it’s been slowly upgraded by its human creators, and with the latest iteration, announced this week, Salto is now capable of bouncing for up to 10 minutes at a time and roaming around the outside world.
Previous versions of Salto were confined to the lab, where motion-capture cameras were needed to give the robot feedback about its position and help it stay upright upright. But, an upgraded version of the bot now comes with enough internal sensors that it can keep its own balance without a camera’s watchful eye.
This means that UC Berkeley grad student Justin Yim, who led the work on Salto’s upgrades, can steer the 100 gram robot around and about in the real world using a controller. As Yim and his colleagues explain in a recent paper, Salto has enough sense of its surroundings to keep upright, but it still relies on human handlers to navigate around major obstacles.
Although Salto is certainly looks fun, it could have serious applications. “Small robots are really great for a lot of things, like running around in places where larger robots or humans can’t,” said Yim in a press post, giving the example of using the robot in a disaster scenario. “We wanted Salto to not only be small, but also able to jump really high and really quickly so that it could navigate these difficult places.”
The name “Salto” actually comes from the word “saltatorial,” which is used by biologists to describe animals that have adapted for leaping. Kangaroos, grasshoppers, and rabbits are some of the more common saltatorial creatures you may have heard of, but Salto falls into that category too. Although the fact that it has just the one leg explains why one researcher described it as a “hyper-aggressive pogo-stick.”
Hyper-aggressive or not, imagine having this little bouncing robot follow you around the house all day.