A robot built to explore disaster sites uses an unusual mode of transportation to traverse rubble: it jumps, tumbles and rolls. Great photo.

The Leg-in-Rotor V, built by associate professor Hideyuki Tsukagoshi and his team at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, has wheels that allow it to roll over flat surfaces and a pneumatic cylinder leg that pops it up more than three feet over debris.

Compact, agile and fast, the foot-long device could prove most effective for searching earthquake-shattered buildings for victims.

“His jumping robot is an excellent invention,” said Satoshi Tadokoro, president of the International Rescue System Institute and a program manager for a Japanese government project for earthquake disaster mitigation in urban areas. “Until now, there has been no solution for fast mobility on rubble piles.”

The Leg-in-Rotor consists of two wheels, two passive legs for stabilization and a pneumatic kicking cylinder. Two light sensors turn on when the device nears an obstacle and work together to estimate when and how high it should jump.

If the object is less than about three feet tall, the pneumatic cylinder thrusts the ground directly beneath the vehicle, sending it up over the impediment. If the robot lands on its side, the cylinder kicks out to help right it.

The two passive legs work to stabilize the robot during such landings or to keep it steady as it rolls over the uneven terrain.

The vehicle’s ability to transition between jumping and rolling make it particularly versatile, said Tsukagoshi.

“It can jump while rolling, which takes advantage of the kinetic energy … (and) it can land in any posture, which helps it recover immediately to start the next motion,” said Tsukagoshi.

And if the sensors detect an impediment but find it too tall, the robot will find a different route.

Along the way, an onboard camera sends video images over a wireless connection to a computer, allowing humans to participate in the search effort. A speaker installed on the device allows rescuers to speak to trapped victims.

According to Tsukagoshi, the robot has the most difficulty leaping from muddy or soft ground and because it is steered visually by remote control, it cannot go out of view.

He and his team hope to make improvements to the remote control aspect by next year.

More here.