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The latest robotic critter from the inventors at automation-technology company Festo is a kangaroo, of all things, and it hops along in much the same way as the animal on which it is based — though, it has to be said, not quite as gracefully.
Festo has made a name in the last few years with various "biomimetic" robot designs, which take their operational characteristics from animals. A robo-bird that flaps its wings to fly, for instance, or a flexible robotic arm modeled on an elephant's trunk.
The BionicKangaroo is the company's attempt to mimic the leaping locomotion of the common kangaroo, which, like most forms of animal motion, is deceptively complex.
Not only must tremendous force be used to propel the robot forward, but the center of gravity must be shifted back and forth to control the landing and prepare the next jump.
And like the real kangaroo (or its smaller cousin the wallaby, which this robot more closely resembles), the bot absorbs the force of the landing to both soften the impact and provide a springlike boost to the next jump.
At the moment, the motion of the robot is a bit jittery, as you can see in the video below, and it certainly can't attain the speeds set by wild kangaroos — which have been clocked at over 40 miles per hour. And its stiff tail, while it does help with that center of gravity, is not as multi-purpose as the real thing.
BionicKangaroo is controlled by a Myo armband at the moment, but could just as easily be directed through computer or voice commands. More information on the way it works can be found at Festo's website, and IEEE Spectrum has additional reporting.