At a height of less than a foot, Salto (saltatorial locomotion on terrain obstacles) the robot can vault over three times its height in a single bound. First introduced in 2016, Salto now can bounce in place and jump through obstacle courses, potentially leaping through rubble to aid in search-and-rescue missions.
Salto's single, powerful leg is modeled after those of the galago, a Senegalese tree-dwelling primate whose muscles and tendons store energy in a way that gives it the ability to string together multiple jumps in a matter of seconds. By linking a series of quick jumps, Salto also can navigate complex terrain — like a pile of debris — that might be impossible to cross without jumping or flying.
The first version of Salto could leap and then immediately spring higher by ricocheting off a wall, making it the world's most vertically agile robot. Since then, sophisticated control systems let Salto master increasingly complex tasks, like bouncing in place, navigating an obstacle course, or following a moving target.
The robot also is equipped with new technology that allows it to “feel” its own body, telling it what angle it is pointing and the bend of its leg. Without these abilities, Salto required motion capture cameras to track its exact angle and position and transmit that data back to a computer, which rapidly crunched the numbers to tell Salto how to angle itself for its next leap. Now, it can make these calculations for itself, allowing operators to use a joystick and radio controller to tell it where to go.
The mathematical models that make this possible could be generalized to control the motion of other kinds of robots. Salto's abilities could be extended, allowing it to grab onto branches or to land and launch from them.