Most human-engineered flying machines require either long runways (airplanes) or flat, stable surfaces (helicopters or drones) for takeoff. Either way, they take a while to overcome gravity and gain elevation. Springs and levers allow more rapid acceleration than wheels do–and many animals like cats and birds are naturals at using their joints springs and levers.
Fast get away
There is a need for more agile robots that “can jump over obstacles or debris in cluttered environments. To design such a machine, designers have turned to nature.
“Birds are really good jumpers.”
The trouble is, when birds start to take off, they lean so far forward that, according to the rules of physics, they should tip over and fall onto their beaks. Yet that does not happen.
Researchers used computer modeling to discover how birds avoid this fate and discovered that birds rotate their bodies slightly backward while accelerating into a jump. They also have flexible leg and toe joints, which prevent them from taking off and immediately crashing into the ground.*
Springs and levers enable more rapid acceleration than wheels and axles do. And many animals are masters of springs and levers. “A house cat will beat a Lamborghini Diablo off the line for the first 100 feet while the car has to rev up, the feline catapults itself into a run. The same principle underlies how birds initiate flight.”*
“If you can understand how that works, you can build a robot that’s good at running around and good at flying, and it will also be good at taking off suddenly in all kinds of conditions and landing on a dime.”*
A robot using these principles, as an alternative to wheeled rovers for exploring other planets, is currently being designed.