The soft robot designed by the researchers of Harvard University is able to move upright, crawl below objects and change its color; and now leaping is another recently improved ability of it. The precisely controlled mixture of methane and oxygen in the tubes shown in the picture creates a slight explosion and with that explosion jumping almost a foot (more than 30 times its own height) is possible.
Before, the robot systems had pneumatic pressure as the tubes were pumping air in order to get activated. Comparing to the current combustion system, it was fairly slow. With the new system, the activation of the robots are fast and the speed of its leap is 4 meters for a second.
As a part of soft robot, the jumping system with three legs is molded with soft silicone and a 3D printer. Soft silicone provides ability to stretch and bend. Wires with high voltage in every leg of the robot give a spark igniting the gasses and that spark creates the explosion. The simple valves in each leg is enough for the robot: The heat created by ignition increases, the gas expands, closing flaps make more pressure in the tubes and the activation starts; while the gas is cooling down, the flaps open again and with more gas pushed in the exhaust is released. That is why there is no need for complex valve systems.
This research is also important as jumping ability would help the robots stay away from the difficulties in their route throughout an operation of search or rescue. Jumping robot with an internal combustion system is regarded by the researchers as the beginning of exploring different capabilities such as running and walking. Programming the robot legs and more crucially designing an energy storage system for later use are the next challenges. Getting rid of the tubes and wires in order to make the robots independent is another objective of the research group.
The details of the research are available in a paper of Angewandte Chemie the international edition dated 6th February and written by the Whitesides Research Group.