The bouncing robot heading for Mars

High jump: The robot could bounce as high as two metres into the air. © ESA

Do the best ideas come from nature? Scientists have developed a robot that can hop in the same way as a type of gazelle. It could soon be exploring parts of Mars other rovers cannot reach.

What’s happening

The sun rises over the dusty landscape. Everywhere, the red ground is dusty. Ahead, the giant rocky mountain range rises up.

Nothing is moving, except for a small robot. It switches on and stretches its four legs. It takes one step towards the steep hill. Then, it jumps 10 metres into the air.

Find out more

Scientists are developing a new robot to explore the surface of Mars. It has four legs that allow it to hop.

The robot has been named SpaceBok. It is based on a kind of antelope called the springbok.

To test the robot, scientists placed it on a steep slope and a floating platform. In both cases, it could walk or bounce easily.

They hope it will one day be able to explore difficult terrain on Mars. The low gravity on the planet makes jumping a very good way of getting around.

The scientists who built Springbok have used a process called biomimicry. This is when humans use nature for ideas in their designs.

In this case, engineers built the robot to jump in the same way as a springbok.

Do the best ideas come from nature?

Some say…

Yes! The SpaceBok is just one example. But there are lots more. The Japanese Bullet Train is partly inspired by birds. Velcro was invented when a designer noticed how easily burrs stick to dog hair. And the reflective markers on roads are based on real cats’ eyes! Nature is the best inventor!

Others think…

Not always. Lots of our best inventions are not based on nature at all. We have made engines, boats and skyscrapers. These are new ways of doing things we would not be able to do otherwise – like flying and travelling by sea. It is good to be inspired by nature. But sometimes we do not need it.

You Decide

  1. Would you rather visit Mars or the Moon?

Activities

  1. Come up with a design for a gadget inspired by an animal or plant from nature. Write three bullet points explaining what it is for and how it works.

Some People Say...

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955), German physicist

What do you think?

Word Watch

Mars
One of the planets next to Earth. It is half the size of our planet. It has freezing deserts, volcanoes, ice caps and weather.
Springbok
A kind of antelope with brown and white markings that live in southern Africa. The nickname of South Africa’s rugby team is the Springboks.
Gravity
An invisible force that pulls objects towards each other. Earth’s gravity keeps us on the ground and makes things fall. It is less strong on Mars.
Jumping
When the first people went to the Moon, they found it easier to hop instead of walk. This is because gravity was lower so they naturally bounced up when taking a step.
Biomimicry
Bio is a Greek word meaning life. Mimicry is when you copy – or mimic – something or someone.
Burrs
A rough covering on a kind of seed. It has tiny hooks that make it stick to fur. In nature, this is so animals will spread the plant’s seeds further around.
Reflective markers
When light or sound bounces off a surface, it is called reflection. Cat’s eyes on the road are made of a reflective material so they light up in the night in a car’s light – just like a real cat’s eyes.

Subjects

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.