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Boffins demonstrate a different kind of floppy disk: A legless robot that hops along a surface

This is fine

Those of us who fear future enslavement by robot overlords may have one more reason not to sleep at night: engineers have demonstrated a few of the legless, floppy variety making some serious leaps.

Animated pancake-like droids have demonstrated their ability to execute a series of flops in a fashion their creators – soft robotics engineers based in China – describe as "rapid, continuous, and steered jumping."

"Jumping is an important locomotion function to extend navigation range, overcome obstacles, and adapt to unstructured environments," Rui Chen of Chongqing University and Huayan Pu of Shanghai University said.

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Weighing 1 gram and measuring 6.5cm in length, the steerable tiddlywinks  –  whose movements are reminiscent of a stingray – possess an internal structure that enables them to jump forward, powered by flexible, electrical-driven liquid redistribution.

According to the research paper published in Nature Communications, each device can jump 7.68 times its own body height. They can also achieve a continuous forward jumping speed of six body lengths per second.

The mechanised cowpats are able to cross obstacles including slopes, wires, shaped cubes and – as if humanity thought they might provide the last vestiges of sanctuary – gravel mounds.

Researchers coupling together two dialectic liquid pump actuators that create a jerky perambulation which can change direction at a rate of 138.4˚ per second.

What is the point of all this – other than to provide a unique addition to a catalogue of doomsday imagery? The increased ability to jump (both higher and more frequently) is important in the soft robotics field as it massively improves the robot's obstacle-crossing ability. Chen and co-authors show that sensors can be integrated into the actuators for diverse applications such as "detecting environmental changes."

In this way the devices could be "applied to detect and record environmental changes such as temperature and ultra-violet light by attaching a light and soft temperature sensor/paste and photochromic dyes," the authors say.

While the current designs are wired to experimental apparatus for power and control, the researchers promise more work to develop an untethered device. Were that not enough, they also aim to augment their findings with research into other forms of soft droid research such as wall-climbing robots, swimming robots, and flapping-wing robots. Get ready. ®

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