Record-Setting Jumper Tosses Biomimicry Out The Window

How can a few grams of battery, geared motor, and some nifty materials get a jumping robot over 30 meters into the air? It wasn’t by copying a grasshopper, kangaroo, or an easily scared kitty. How was it done, then?

It’s been observed that of all the things that are possible in nature, out of all the wonderful mechanisms, fluid and aerodynamics, and chemistry, there’s one thing that is so far undiscovered in a living thing: continuous rotation. Yes, that’s right, the simple act of going roundy-round is unique to mechanical devices rather than biological organisms. And when it comes to jumping robots, biomimicry can only go so far.

With this distinct mechanical advantage in mind, [Elliot Hawkes] of the University of California Santa Barbara decided to look beyond biomimicry. As explained in the paper in Nature and demonstrated in the video below the break,  the jumping robot being considered uses rubber bands, carbon fiber bows, and commodity items such as a geared motor and LiPo batteries to essentially wind up the spring mechanism and then, like a trap being sprung, release the pent up energy all at once. The result? The little jumper can go almost 100 feet into the air. Be sure to check it out!

Thanks to [Kelvin Ly] for the tip!

39 thoughts on “Record-Setting Jumper Tosses Biomimicry Out The Window

  1. @Ryan Flowers said: “…there’s one thing that is so far undiscovered in a living thing: Continuous rotation. Yes, that’s right, the simple act of going roundy round is unique to mechanical devices rather than biological organisms.”

    Nope, do a search for “Bacterial Flagellar Motor”. YouTube has a bunch of good cross-sectional animations. Be careful though, the Creation Cult thinks the existence of the Bacterial Flagellar Motor is evidence against Darwinism.

    1. Within the context of jumping creatures being considered, it stands. As for evolution, from a *strictly* scientific perspective, I’ve never understood how it overcomes the second law of thermodynamics.

        1. There is no closed system unless your talking about the entire universe (including the currently unobservable universe), there are simply a spectrum of fairly closed to fairly open systems, if something is fully closed it both can’t be observed and can’t be interacted with. Meaning even black holes are not closed

      1. It doesn’t. Any decrease in entropy on earth is bananas less than the decrease as the earth is bombarded with solar energy on its face.

        Also, life disorganizes and splits apart and scatters and mixes things as it goes. Have you built more than you have destroyed?

          1. Yeah, but “entropy maximization” would imply intention behind the universe, rather than disordered states simply being more likely by random chance.

            It’s like watching pinballs fall down through a grid of pegs on a board and accumulate into a normal distribution in a row of tubes below, and then suggesting that the pinballs want to be in the center as if they had a choice.

      2. > I’ve never understood how it overcomes the second law of thermodynamics.

        Take a simple premise like “water always flows downhill under the influence of gravity – never uphill”. Then you discover the existence of the hydraulic ram that lifts water up higher than it started from. Magic? No, it’s just a simple mechanism that is easily understood.

        Same difference. Biology is a mechanism which can ratchet itself up towards higher complexity (lower entropy) along a stream of energy. There’s no problem in terms of the second law as long as you’ve got more energy always coming and going.

      3. I swear calling them laws messes with people’s head… if we call it the statistical principle of thermodynamics, where averagely things that are not otherwise screwed with tend towards minimum energy level.

        Averagely, meaning you can concentrate energy locally at the expense of the whole, and otherwise screwed with means by using external energy or agency, or merely having some “happen” due to it not being a spherical chicken universe.

    2. “Irreducible complexity” is a bullshit argument for intelligence anyway. You don’t always have to build up monotonically from simpler components; building up to an overly complex machine to get over a hill in configuration space and then simplifying down into a local minimum is a valid path and can be stumbled upon without intelligent input.

      I thought the BFM was similar to me waving my arm in a circle (i.e. not actually rotating the arm itself) but looking it up now I see it has a legitimate rotor component, which is insanely cool.

      1. For a perfect example of how ridiculous the idea of irreducible complexity is, look at modern society – everything is interconnected, and removing one thing makes the rest grind to a halt. Clearly this means a divine creator must have puked modern society into existence last Thursday?

      2. The rotor component of bacterial flagella is closely related to the enzyme ATP synthase, which we all have in our mitochondria (which are themselves closely related to bacteria.) Likewise, ATP synthase functions in continuous rotation. Both have a complex of rotor proteins held in a complex of stator proteins that are embedded in a membrane to provide enough strength to resist the torque of the rotation.
        At a very rough estimate, we have about 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 of these running, per person. I think I counted my zeroes correctly.

        1. Thanks, that’s what else I was tryna think of.

          So… if I wanna make a superhero serum to become Magneto… I gotta figure something that puts an iron atom in all 10^21 little dynamos. ;-)

          1. Or figure out a way to fix the DNA in them. They have their own separate DNA and DNA replication enzymes because they speak a different DNA dialect than the rest of our cells (one hint their ancestors are microbes — I mean ours are too, but a lot further back so they’ve varied less than we have.) Damage to mitochondrial DNA results in lower efficiency, and that’s a driver of aging and senescence. Mito DNA is all tightly coupled to enzymes in the mito that regulate its activity and code for the weirdo stuff it does. But in theory you could have the metabolism of a child if you managed to swap out your mitochondria for brand new ones.

  2. I am not ready to believe that “near the theoretical limit of jump height” (@02:01) with all those nicely rendered wallpaper formula’s. The N20 motor used is not really low weight (but it is cheap and available) and together with the battery there is still quite a lot of “dead weight” to accelerate. And lower mass with the same energy input is higher acceleration and speed, and thus higher jumps.

    I was quite surprised about the rotating tails of bacteria but I guess that is about the max size that can work in biology. Slip couplings for nerves and blood vessels are not very likely to be found anywhere soon.

    But the whole rotating thing is a dead pig anyway. An biological equivalent could be with levers and some ratcheting mechanism (Yes, there are ratchets in biology, but they are rare).

    A diabolical equivalent would be a “water” rocket with gas build up in intestines and a sudden release of a sphincter muscle. Or is that closer to “solid propellant”?

    1. The pistol shrimp actually creates *plasma* underwater by clapping. It uses the resultant mini explosion to knock stunned prey down. Does this satisfy your rocket conditions?

    2. Something the size of an insect could have a rotating body part, because they already rely on diffusion for circulation so it’s feasible to pass materials around simply by floating in the same fluids.

      Nerve connections would be hard, not impossible though. Bioluminescence could do the trick. The question is just “why?”. What would absolutely require that you rotate something continuously? Even drilling a hole can be just as easily done by reciprocating motion.

    1. IIRC the grasshopper shown in the video has those cogs – they enforce synchronisation of the leg movements, so that the insect leaps forwards instead of randomly off at an angle.

    1. It is an interesting design to consider for a launcher… though maybe leaving the springs behind would be more parsimonious. Then also you don’t have to lift their weight and they can be stronger and more numerous. BRB, getting 32 bows at the archery store to shoot an Arduino into orbit…

      (Actually when thinking of a system that leaves the springs behind, I am not sure I haven’t seen this in nature before, some seed launcher of a plant, spring loads itself and dries out to a point then pow, fires the seed(s) probably some David Attenborough doc I saw it on, Life of Plants maybe??? )

  3. I love being among so many like minded intelligent people! When I’d read the line about continuous rotation being undiscovered I had rushed to the comment section only to find i had been best in time by my hack mates! Much love hackaday only here can the words be taken right from my mouth without upsetting my forthright. I am awed to be in the presence of greatness.

    BTW I’m going for a job with radwell (as a technician) where the majority of my work will be component level board repair for industrial/commercial clients would anyone who currently
    has a similar job be interested in letting me purview their resume or the relevant portion therein? Mine is geared toward the tech support/caregiving that comprised my career thus far. I’m very active in the maker scene though, and as a hobbyist am capable of using what i know in analog circuit design + embedded C++ to complete many a projects. Whenever i get to listing all my abilities however it becomes to wordy.

  4. I wonder how far you could take this with just bamboo BBQ skewers and rubber bands, “only” jumping a house would be adequate performance for some screwing around with.

    Also I am pondering applications to fixed wing semi-autonomous aircraft, which if pinged off the ground at a rate to achieve airspeed and control, could eclipse the VTOL advantages of quadcopters.

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