You remember that crazy little hip-hoppin’ robot that came out of a partnership between Boston Dynamics and Sandia National Labs? Sure you do! And if you don’t, this video tells you pretty much all you need to know:
Originally called the “Precision Urban Hopper,” the U.S. Army or DARPA or someone has decided to rename this robot “Sand Flea,” because that’s a name guaranteed to strike fear into the hearts of the enemies of freedom. Sand Flea is now officially on its way to Afghanistan, where it’ll bounce right over walls and obstacles thanks to an integrated, downward-firing piston. The piston is powered by CO2, and the bot can make up to 30 leaps of 25 vertical feet (7.6 meters) before it needs to recharge. It’s apparently precise enough to jump right through a second floor window and send back streaming video of whatever is inside.
Sand Flea is essentially taking the place of a small airborne system, which would be more expensive, less reliable, and not fundamentally more effective below about 30 feet (9 meters) or so. It’s designed with one primary purpose in mind: allowing squads to repetitively look over walls. The idea is that a soldier will drive the Sand Flea up to a wall, jump over, look around at what’s on the other side, and the jump back and move on. Those weird looking wheels act as shock absorbers for hard landings, and somehow, the robot stabilizes itself in mid-air so that it hits the ground ready to drive. Sounds like a slick system, if they can get it to work in the field.
This squad-level close recon space is getting more and more crowded with innovative designs, and that’s a good thing. For example, the Recon Scout can be thrown over walls, and PackBots equipped with Zipper Masts can peek over anything under eight feet. But short of using some sort of MAV, Sand Flea is the only ground robot that can go explore an area on the other side of a 25 foot wall, and then actually find its way back again.