Sand Flea robot is set to leap into reconnaissance (w/ video)

March 29, 2012 by Nancy Owano report

( -- Boston Dynamics’ video gallery of troop-supporting robots that trek and haul loads has a new addition that is drawing a sea of impressed viewers. It’s the Sand Flea Robot, an eleven-pound wonder that jumps 30 feet high, with a style that stands out in the world of jumping robots. The entertainment value in watching the video is due to the new features that Boston Dynamics injected into it, following the debut of its jumping-robot predecessor, Precision Urban Hopper.

The Precision Urban Hopper, which was developed as a project between and Sandia National Labs, was, like the Sand Flea, a four-wheeled device that could jump and hurl itself over fences. It could jump as high as 25 feet. The difference is that Sand Flea can do 30 feet and the newcomer jumps in a different fashion.

The Precision Hopper jumped while it moved, rolling forward. The Sand Flea moves in a more interesting way; it stops, goes back, and launches itself up into the air—a halt, aim, and prepare for liftoff procedure. A small platform on its underside serves to prop Sand Flea up onto its wheels and then go up.

“Astonishing jumping skills”; “one of the most incredible robotic feats I have ever seen”; the two remarks about the Sand Flea video were typical reactions of viewers, all of who have followed Massachusetts-based Boston Dynamics military introductions, from BigDog to PETMAN to the galloping Cheetah.

Numerous stats surrounding the Sand Flea include its ability to jump two stories high, up to 30 feet in the air, no difficulties in clearing obstacles, and able to make 25 jumps in a row before requiring a refill. Carbon dioxide-powered pistons help it launch.

According to Boston Dynamics’ notes on its video, “an onboard stabilization system keeps it oriented during flight to improve the view from the video uplink and to control landings.”

As the video indicates, the Sand Flea can easily drive around rocky, difficult terrain with its four wheels as an agile car but then prepare itself for takeoff if needed.

Precision Urban Hopper Robot

Its ultimate destination is Afghanistan, according to reports. Before that, the Sand Flea will undergo safety and reliability checks at the Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC). The intended use of Sand Flea is as a ruggedized reconnaissance robot. Sand Flea will help soldiers run reconnaissance mission and other tasks. After passing evaluations in the U.S., the robots will be tested in Afghanistan, for tasks like hopping over walls and relaying video back while in the air.

The military uses more than 2,000 robots in Afghanistan, according to reports. The current development of Sand Flea is funded by the Rapid Equipping Force of the U.S. Army.

Explore further: Boston Dynamics unwraps military robot AlphaDog (w/ video)

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2.8 / 5 (4) Mar 29, 2012
Impressive, but here's a thought:

Driving is a lot more energy efficient than flying (quadcopters, etc.). I get that. Using quadcopters requires thme to be refueled every ten minutes of use or so (which is plenty for many applications).

But why would we use a jumping bot instead of a quadcopter that also has some rudimentary driving capability?

Such a combo would not be limited to 30 feet jumps but could scale builings/obstacles of any size.
1 / 5 (1) Mar 29, 2012
Jumping bots are cheaper, quieter and they can transport explosives.
3 / 5 (2) Mar 29, 2012
Quadcopters can transport up to 1kg of payload without loss of altitude.
Jumpbots with such a payload could not jump as high as those carrying nothing.

Also it certainly will be tricky to attach any kind of bulky stuff to a jumpbot as it can land on either side after a jump. You'd be limited to the clearance of the wheels (and much less if you want to be able to navigate any kind of terrain that isn't perfectly flat. Quadcopters can have the payload on top and be always assurd to land the right side up (even if you manually topple one after landing it can right itself)

Whether they are cheaper is not certain. Quadcopters come pretty cheap already. You can buy them in toy stores. They don't need to be 'ruggedized' in any way. The expensive stuff is the hackproof electronics and steering - and that is virtually identical for both systems.
1 / 5 (1) Mar 29, 2012
Quadcopters can transport up to 1kg of payload without loss of altitude
You can hear such a quadcopter from two hundred meters distance, after then, not to say about its cost and sensitivity to bad wheather. The formally thinking people can judge the things from single point of view only all the time - it's their way of following of formal derivations. Read what I'm posting here carefully and you'll remain happy with it.
1 / 5 (1) Mar 29, 2012
And you think the jumping process is silent?

As noted: the quadcopter-combo would only fly to clear any obstacles. After that it's a ground vehicle (and as silent) just like the jumpbot.
4.7 / 5 (3) Mar 29, 2012
It's dark, you hear a thump. You run toward it to see what it is. Where'd it go...
It's dark, you hear a loud humming in the air flying toward you for several minutes. You hide, and when it gets near you kill it.
5 / 5 (1) Mar 29, 2012
The new strategy is to scare all the cats in the region to death. With this incredible tool they can no longer jump over something to get away, and it can fit almost anywhere they can. Sorry Fluffy, your time of peace is at an end.
not rated yet Mar 29, 2012
this robot is COOL!!!
1 / 5 (1) Mar 30, 2012
These technical contraptions are basicly for killing people do we need such enthusiastic coverage of them.
not rated yet Mar 30, 2012
That's only one of their possible uses, Gino. They could be of immeasurable help in various other ways, like rescue operations. As sad as it is, some major innovations have come out of war, many of which have helped far more people than they ever hurt.
not rated yet Mar 31, 2012
These technologies can be used for other uses other than killing people. The money is currently in the business of killing, but other uses can also be implemented. For example, finding and rescuing people trapped in burning buildings, or carrying cables and hoses over obstacles in the landscape.
not rated yet Apr 01, 2012
Combine this jumper with the robot tail from another article here some time ago - too lazy to look that up now - and the jump could be stabilized. Shock absorbers could soften the landing etc.. Applications could be amazingly divers.

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