A hopping robot five centimeters tall has set a record by jumping 27 times its own height, breaking the previous record of just 17 times.
Clever designers at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerlandused a motor designed to power the vibration unit of a pager drives the gears that wind the robot's springs. Watch the "grasshopper robot" do its stuff in the video shown below.
(Hopping grasshopper robot video)
This biomimetic robot makes use of a basic fact about grasshoppers and other similar insects; hopping is a very useful strategy for navigating rough terrain. The robot's designers hope that this research will lead to explorational robots both here on Earth (for disaster work) and on other planets.
The little robot (it only weighs seven grams) takes about 3.5 seconds to fully "wind" its springs; a 10 mAh battery can power 108 jumps.
Readers may recall another hopping robot prototype; consider these hopping microrobots.
Dr. Penelope Boston and Dr. Steven Dubowsky have developed the idea of a swarm of "hopping microrobots" capable of exploring hazardous terrain, including underground caves. Prototypes should be on the way soon; they received phase II funding from NASA. Dr. Boston describes them this way:
In Phase I, we wanted to focus on robotic units that were small, very numerous (hence expendable), largely autonomous, and that had the mobility that was needed for getting into rugged terrains. Based on Dr. Dubowsky's ongoing work with artificial-muscle-activated robotic motion, we came up with the idea of many, many, tiny little spheres, about the size of tennis balls, that essentially hop, almost like Mexican jumping beans. They store up muscle energy, so to speak, and then they boink themselves off in various directions. That's how they move.
Update 11-Oct-2016: Take a look at the Hopper from Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus (1954) by Isaac Asimov. End update: