Bionic kangaroo jumps like the real thing

By Paddy Wood/AAP 4 April 2014
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A robot kangaroo that jumps like Skippy has been unveiled in Germany

IF IT LOOKS like a kangaroo and hops like a kangaroo, it could be a sophisticated robot powered by electric drives and pneumatic pumps.

After two years of research, German engineers have unveiled a bionic kangaroo which closely emulates the marsupial’s unique hop.

Standing about a metre tall and weighing seven kilograms, the robot can reach heights of 40cm and distances of 80cm in a single bound.

And mimicking the animal, it can recycle kinetic energy from one jump to the next via an elastic “Achilles tendon” and compressed air valves.

In nature, the kangaroo’s ability to re-use energy allows it to cover vast distances at speed. Without it, they’d tire quickly.

In the industrial world, the same principle could improve the automation technology used to manufacture products such as cars and computers, according to the researchers from the Bionic Learning Network.

Bionic kangaroo the latest in robotic animals

The network, a collaboration between European universities and researchers at German automation firm Festo, looks to nature for new ways to improve industrial technology.

Robotic penguins, seagulls and jellyfish are among their previous projects.

When standing, the kangaroo touches the floor with both feet and its tail, giving it a stable three-pointed base.

Before the first hop, the elastic tendon is made tense with pressurised gas. Motors near the “hip” then kick in and the electronic animal leans forward.

When it reaches a certain angle, the energy is released and it hops.

The tail moves to keep the robot’s body balanced horizontally in mid-air. It then lands, converting force from the impact into energy for the next hop.

Bionic kangaroo responds via wireless signal

The robot is controlled with a sophisticated arm band which communicates a wearer’s gestures via Bluetooth up to a range of 50m.

Summon it with a “come here” gesture and along it will dutifully hop.

But it won’t be coming to Australia any time soon. Festo says it is a proof-of-concept model.