University of Pennsylvania Unleashes Robot Jerboa Upon the World

Photo: UPenn Kodlab
Thanks to an actuated tail, this robot has hops.

I don’t think any of us ever knew just how badly we wanted a robotic jerboa until suddenly, someone built a robotic jerboa. A jerboa is sort of like a gerbil, except crossed with a kangaroo, at least as far as mobility is concerned. Jerboas bounce around on two absurdly long legs in what seems like a very dynamic and efficient type of motion, especially if you take the tail into account.

Avik De, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, decided to try and build one based on the venerable RHex hexapod platform:

“My first thought was to build a robot that runs like RHex on two legs. So, full of visions of the running velociraptors in Jurassic Park, I set out to create a robot with a powerful tail, and two RHex-like legs.”

This is not that robot.

In case you missed it in the video, this robot only has actuated hips, not legs, plus a tail that it can move up and down. The legs have a spring, and by actuating the tail in a sort of anti-damping motion, the springs can be compressed, causing the robot to jump due entirely to the motion of the tail: in other words, the tail is driving the legs. The tail idea in general comes from UC Berkeley, but this is likely the first time a tail has been used in this particular way on a robot.

UPenn sees its jerboa robot as a platform that can be used to investigate all kinds of locomotion, including “sitting, standing, walking, hopping, running, turning, leaping, and more.” Based on what they’ve done with RHex as a research platform, we’re expecting acrobatics.

But what about the robot with the two RHex legs and the tail? It definitely exists. De also calls it Jerboa, and here it is on video:

I’ll confess to not entirely understanding how these two different robotic iterations of the jerboa are related, but De will be presenting a paper on the jerboa at ICRA next month in Seattle, so we’ll make sure to get all the details for you then.

[ UPenn Kodlab ]



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