We've been following the development of Boston Dynamics' Sand Flea jumping robot for years now, but we've never actually seen the latest version jump. Now Boston Dynamics has just posted a new video of Sand Flea in action, and this little guy is absolutely bananas.
Sand Flea has its origins in the Precision Urban Hopper, which was born of a collaboration between Sandia National Labs and Boston Dynamics back in 2009. There are some significant differences in the latest version of Sand Flea, some of which we've only just seen in this video: for example, instead of jumping while moving (like the Precision Urban Hopper did), Sand Flea stops, rears back, and launches itself into the air:
Sand Flea has no trouble clearing a 10-meter obstacle (about 30 feet), and it's accurate enough that you can ask it to jump through a window two stories up and it'll do it. The piston (which looks as if it fires out the back of the robot, as opposed to downwards) is powered by CO2, and Sand Flea can make 25 jumps in a row before it needs to juice itself up again. Sand Flea is intended to be used in Afghanistan to hop over walls, take a look around, and hop right back home again.
The tricky bit to all this (besides, you know, the actual jumping thing) is keeping Sand Flea oriented as steadily as possible during the jump. The idea is that the robot will be able to send back useful video while in midair, which a haphazard aerial tumble would preclude. And it looks like it does a halfway decent job, for sure, but you know what this robot needs? A tail. Seriously. Give it a tail.
[ Boston Dynamics ]
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.