Robo-roo, a bionic kangaroo, has been unveiled by a German development company.
Festo, a bio-engineer company, developed the robotic kangaroo. Robo-roo mimics the natural animal in the way it transfers energy from one hop to another. By constantly recycling that kinetic energy, the mechanical marsupial is able to continue hopping using only small amounts of electrical energy. Tendons in kangaroos are replaced by elastic springs. This greatly increases the range of the mechanical animal.
Robo-roo stands about three feet tall, and weighs around 15 pounds. Pneumatic pumps push air into the legs of the robot, propelling the robot up to three feet forward, while it travels up to a foot over the ground. Lightweight materials were used throughout the construction of the device, reducing the energy required to continue hopping.
"Its jumping mechanism enables the kangaroo to increase its speed without using more energy in doing so. With every bounce it can store energy from the landing phase and use it again for the next jump. The Achilles tendon assumes an important function here, which is why it is particularly pronounced on the natural kangaroo," developers wrote [pdf] in the company profile of the device.
Prior to the first hop, compressed air prepares the animal to begin its journey. Robo-roo shifts its weight forward to a per-determined angle, then the air is pushed into the legs, sending the robot into the air. Legs come forward to increase the length of the jump and the tail moves slightly to accommodate torque forces that would cause the robot to twist in flight. When the robotic marsupial lands, the energy from landing is absorbed in the elastic springs, and used for the next hop. The device can keep going until the battery runs out.
Controllers direct the device using gestures, similar to video games controllers. Future models could be managed by voice command, or even be totally automated.
Due to the small size of the bionic animal, many people have begun to refer to the invention as the bionic wallaby.
Festo also developed "Smartbird," a robotic seagull capable of independent flight, in 2011.
Unfortunately, robotic kangaroos are not likely to become common household robopets anytime soon. The developer stated they are not planning to mass-produce the devices. Robo-roo will be used for tests into how kinetic energy can be conserved by future robots. Research into the bionic kangaroos could one day be used to develop a new generation of prosthetic devices for humans.
Video of the bionic kangaroo is available on YouTube.