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Imitation Achilles Tendon Lets “BionicKangaroo” Hop Like The Real Thing

The geniuses over at Festo Pneumatic and Electric Automation Worldwide in Germany aim to recreate the mechanical effect of natural forms like wings, legs, and hands for use in the robots of tomorrow. This is the organization that gave us robotic elephant trunks, jellyfish, and the bionic bird of Ted Talk fame, the SmartBird, a robotic flying seagull. We are now happy to announce that Festo has FINALLY broken into the world of mechanical marsupials with its new BionicKangaroo.

The most impressive mimicry of kangaroo physiology is not those cute little ears, it’s the fact that BionicKangaroo can use elasticity to actually recover energy from one jump to the next. The elastic nature of a real kangaroo’s Achilles tendon allows the structure to basically recharge when the animal lands, and then unload that energy to power the next jump. The legs of BionicKangaroo use an elastic spring to achieve the same effect.

At rest, the BionicKangaroo uses its tail to maintain a stable 3-point stance. In this time before the first movement, its Achilles is drawn tight using pressurized gas. When it’s time to head off on a hop-about, the robot leans slightly forward using a motor in what we’ll call the hip joint. Once the torso is at just the right pitch, the energy in the tendon is released and the robot flings forward. When it lands, the tendon is naturally stretched back out, thus converting kinetic energy from the last jump into potential energy for the next one. Just like a real kangaroo, BionicKangaroo’s tail bobs up and down to stabilize the robot as it moves. Unlike real kangaroos, it doesn’t have a pouch where a super cute BionicJoey could ride. Maybe on the next model.

Bionic Kangaroo IP 3

BionicKangaroo can jump 0.4 meters up and 0.8 meters forward. The entire robot only weighs 7 kg (more of a bionic wallaby, then, yes?)

The movements of BionicKangaroo are directed by an arm-mounted, Bluetooth-enabled controller. As seen in the video, the wearer can beckon the kangaroo over and even direct it to spin in circles. The controller can command the BionicKangaroo from as far away as 50 meters – that’s 1/3 of an Aussie rules football pitch!

Though this design is still in the “proof of concept” phase, Festo hopes these marsupial mechanics could one day be used in the automation tech used to make cars and computers. What other natural mechanical phenomena are worth emulating in our robotics? How does BionicKangaroo stack up against HyQ or WildCat? Tell us in the comment section below.

HT: Festo, The Guardian, Discovery News

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