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Army Designing Scout Robots for Search and Rescue Missions

Scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a new type of agile robot in a research project for the United States Army. Known as Salto, the robot resembles a smaller version of the Imperial Walker robots found in the Star Wars franchise. Researchers believe that one day this robot has the potential to prove useful in search-and-rescue and scouting operations.

Salto comes in at under a foot in height and gets its name from the phrase saltatorial locomotion on terrain obstacles. The robot has a sophisticated controls system and has proven capable of performing tasks such as bouncing in place, following a moving target, and navigating an obstacle course. It receives its commands from scientists via a radio controller.

Previously, Salto gained attention by proving back in 2016 that it was the world’s most vertically agile robot. The research team had Salto jump, then ricochet off a wall to achieve even greater heights. Ultimately, the robot was able to jump over three times its own height.

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Scientists are hopeful that the advances Salto has made will one day lead to the development of small robots that are agile enough to aid in a variety of different military missions, including search-and-rescue operations through dangerous terrain.

“Small robots are really great for a lot of things, like running around in places where larger robots or humans can’t fit. For example, in a disaster scenario, where people might be trapped under rubble, robots might be really useful at finding the people in a way that is not dangerous to rescuers and might even be faster than rescuers could have done unaided. We wanted Salto to not only be small but also able to jump really high and really quickly so that it could navigate these difficult places.”

UC Berkeley robotics graduate student Justin Yim

Besides greater mobility, Salto also comes with some other advances — namely, the ability to feel its own body. This allows the robot to adjust its own motions, while scientists direct it where to go with the help of a joystick and a radio controller. Before this, every move Salto made had to go through motion capture cameras that recorded and transmitted the data to a computer, which would then crunch the numbers and direct Salto on where to go next.

Scientists will continue to work on improving Salto’s mobility in the hopes that he could one day lead the way for agile robots capable of assisting in various military operations.

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