This gliding robot mimics the leaping glides of flying fish and needs no external power. The Jump Glider could be the first in a new generation of robots, harnessing aerodynamic lift to travel further than it would if it simply hopped, and without using additional energy.
Alexis Lussier Desbiens and colleagues at Stanford University in California created the robot, which is 30 centimetres long and has a battery charged by a solar cell. Its motor compresses a lightweight carbon-fibre spring, which when released flings the robot into the air. The robot's wing then pivots to maximise lift. At the peak of its leap, the wing flattens out to prolong glide time. In tests, the Jump Glider managed to fly about 5 metres per hop.
The way in which the robot stores and releases energy is impressive, says Chris Melhuish, director of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory in the UK, who develops robots that scavenge energy from their environment. Because the Jump Glider uses the sun's rays to recharge, he envisages that the robots could be deployed in a swarm, communicating wirelessly, to carry out coordinated environmental monitoring or mapping missions across vast areas like the Australian outback.