The LEAP soft robot was inspired by the cheetah.


NC State University/ Screenshot by Shelby Brown/ CNET

Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a new soft robot that moves quickly on solid surfaces and can gently lift even heavy items. The new class of bots is called LEAP, Leveraging Elastic instabilities for Amplified Performance, and its design is based on the cheetah. 

“We were inspired by the cheetah to create a type of soft robot that has a spring-powered, ‘bistable’ spine, meaning that the robot has two stable states,” Jie Yin, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State said in a university release

LEAP robots are approximately 7 centimeters long and weigh about 45 grams, according to the release. Prior to LEAP, the fastest soft bots could move up to 0.8 body lengths per second on flat, solid surfaces. LEAP bots can reach speeds of 2.7 body lengths per second — three times faster. LEAP bots can also run on inclines, and if a fin is attached, swim faster than previous soft bots. 

“Potential applications include search and rescue technologies, where speed is essential, and industrial manufacturing robotics,” Yin said in the release. “For example, imagine production line robotics that are faster, but still capable of handling fragile objects.”  

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