Soft-bodied robots crawl as slowly as caterpillars in many people’s concepts, but newly developed software robots can move as fast as cheetahs. As the world’s fastest land animal, cheetahs run by rapidly bending their spines between two stable states. Inspired by this, a team of American scientists tried to replicate the movement on software robots. The device is called LEAP, and its full name is The Grand Leveraging Elastic instited Performance.
This LEAP silicon robot does not have muscles or biological spines, but consists of two soft pneumatic actuators and a mechanical spine loaded with elastic springs. Alternately pumping in the two actuators, allowing air in and out of the two actuators, allowing energy to be stored and released suddenly, triggering a spring to instantly bend the spine from one stable state to another. As a result, the robot is able to exert force on the ground and jump from the ground.
With this technology, LEAP can travel on flat, solid ground at a speed of 2.7 body lengths per second. In addition, if equipped with fins, its maximum swimming speed can reach 0.78 individual lengths per second. By contrast, the fastest conventional software robot is said to have a top speed of 0.8 on land and 0.7 when swimming.
In fact, the team has built several small robots, each about 7 cm (2.8 inches) long and weighing about 45 grams (1.6 ounces). When multiple robots work together, they are able to hold an object from all directions and then lift it from the ground by pulling out their spines together.