Gliding is a very efficient way for getting from point A to point B. Jumping is a very efficient way of getting into the air at point A, especially if there are a bunch of obstacles between point A and point B that it would be a good idea to be airborne to make it over. Grasshoppers have been doing this for, I dunno, probably like a hundred million years, and roboticists at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), in Switzerland, are starting to design their robots with the same kind of jumping talents and expandable wings as our orthopteran friends.
Here's what EPFL's jumpglider hybrid jumping and gliding robot looks like when it's just jumping and gliding and not trying to fold itself up:
The jumping part, and the crawling around on the ground part, is somewhat impaired by the bot's giant wings, which is why getting this whole folding thing figured out would be pretty cool. Here's the locust-inspired folding mechanism in action:
Locusts aren't the only creatures with wings that cleverly fold up. EPFL are also trying out a system based on bats:
There's also some super secret third bio-inspired design that I can't find any additional info on (yet!), so have fun imagining what other animals might be used as a basis from which to create a gliding robot. Like, you know, elephants. It's all in the ears, man.
[ Mirko Kovac ]
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.