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Precision Urban Hopper Robot Must 'Stick' Landings

The Precision Urban Hopper robot is a DARPA project intended to give wheeled robots an additional edge; the ability to jump up onto or over obstacles up to nine meters high. The device will have some sort of powered linear piston actuator that drives the mechanism.

Update 15-Sep-2009: Take a look at this Precision Urban Hopper robot video. End update.

The contract was just awarded to Boston Dynamics, maker of the BigDog robot, the Petman humanoid robot, the RISE six-legged robot and of course SquishBot. Boston Dynamics engineers also created a jockey-riddden hopping robot that probably tipped the balance in their favor on this contract (don't miss the video).

The Precision Urban Hopper is part of a broad effort to bolster the capabilities of troops and special forces engaged in urban combat, giving them new ways to operate unfettered in the urban canyon," said Jon Salton, program manager at Sandia National Laboratories, in a statement. "The Boston Dynamics concept, along with their skills and experience, are ideal to help us with this important program."

This device appears to be part of the Urban Ops Hopper program from DARPA:

The Urban Ops Hopper program will develop a semi-autonomous hybrid hopping/articulated wheeled robotic platform that could adapt to the urban environment in real-time and provide the delivery of small payloads to any point of the urban jungle while remaining lightweight, small to minimize the burden on the soldier. In general, small robots or unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) are severely limited by obstacle negotiation capability. The demonstrated hopping capability allows small UGVs to overcome obstacles many times their own size. Hopping mobility can be shown to be much more efficient than hovering for obstacles at heights less than or equal to a few meters. The proposed hopping robot would be truly multi-functional in that it will negotiate all aspects of the urban battlefield to deliver payloads to non-line-of-sight areas with precision.

In a recent posted Procurement notice last September, Sandia labs was looking for a contractor to build this small, lightweight hopping vehicle. Be sure to look for the following key phrases:

  • "ability to make precise hops"
  • “'stick' accurate landings"
  • "hopping surface properties"
  • "precision guided hopping"
  • "precision hop performance"

    As part of an ongoing DARPA project, Sandia has developed a small GPS guided, unmanned ground vehicle that can jump over and/or onto obstacles up to 9 meters high. The current design uses a combustion powered linear piston actuator that rotates about an actuated pivot to place the foot of the hopping mechanism on the ground at a 70 degree angle between the piston and the ground. The current vehicle’s ability to make precise hops through specified target locations such as windows and to “stick” accurate landings on small target locations without excessive bouncing is limited by the fixed hopping angle design, variations in hopping surface properties such as hardness, soil density, and ground undulations, and unpredicted and uncompensated vehicle tumbling both during flight and in the time between contacting the ground and coming to rest. A new vehicle design is envisioned that would allow for greater precision guided hopping and landing in varied terrain.

    In this Request for Information, Sandia is seeking statements of interest from a a commercial contractor(s) to design, build, and test a small, lightweight hopping vehicle (the “Precision Urban Hopper” or the “vehicle”) that will improve precision hop performance versus the current design. This vehicle will incorporate Sandia’s unique subsystems including detailed specifications for the hopping actuator, fueling system, electronics, communications systems, and software. The CONTRACTOR will develop the chassis, wheels, motors, drivetrain, video cameras, payload bays, and system(s) to improve precision hopping and landing performance. The CONTRACTOR may choose to use Sandia’s current designs for tires, batteries and fuel tanks or to develop alternatives, but must meet the technical specifications described below. Any additional electronics, software, or communications systems required to implement the CONTRACTOR’s approach to improved precision hopping must be compatible with Sandia’s systems. Sandia will work with the CONTRACTOR on the mechanical design of the vehicle including the integration of the Sandia provided subsystems. The development of the system will consist of four phases: a preliminary design phase, a critical design phase, a fabrication and integration phase, and a testing phase.

    If you're thinking that science fiction writers predicted this device - you're right. And took it to the ultimate state.

    In his 1994 novel Heavy Weather, Bruce Sterling wrote about a device called a "dope mule robot:"

    It was crossing the hills with vast, unerring, twenty-meter leaps. A squat metal sphere, painted in ragged patches of dun and olive drab. It had a single thick, pistoning metal leg.

    The bounding robot whipped that single metal leg around with dreadful unerring precision, like some nightmare one-legged pirate. It whacked its complex metal foot against the earth like a hustler's cue whacking a pool ball, and it bounded off instantly...
    (Read more about the dope mule robot)

    You'll want to jump right on these hopping robot stories:

    From Computer World and DARPA.

    Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 4/22/2009)

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