As it bounces through the Australian outback, the typical kangaroo can cover around 25 to 30 feet per hop. It’s a model of efficiency: Every time the kangaroo hits the ground, its tendons stretch to store energy like the spring in a pogo stick, so it can easily speed up without getting tired. It’s so good at hopping, in fact, that for the last two years, a German company called Festo has been secretly developing a robot that tries to copy everything a natural kangaroo can do.
The BionicKangaroo is smaller than the real thing and much lighter–the body is made mostly out of foam, and it weighs just 15 pounds. But it moves in basically the same way as an actual kangaroo, using elastic tendons that recharge every time the kangaroo lands. It can jump forward about three feet at a time, steered by someone wearing a gesture-based armband.
The point of the project isn’t really to create a robo-kangaroo that someone would actually use; these aren’t going to be available in stores anytime soon. Instead, Festo wanted to explore new ideas that they may incorporate into the automated tools that they make for factory assembly lines. Eventually, some of the features of the BionicKangaroo may help industry save energy.