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Will Humans v2.0 have Pogo Legs?

The BowGo Project. Photo credit: Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) robotics.

“Hey, who’s that robot dude with the pogo legs?  Like totally gnarly.”

BowGo’s pogo stick –- patented by Carnegie Mellon and based on technology developed for robotic legs –- is likely to dominate Pogopalooza, the annual gathering of the best extreme pogo athletes in the world. Here’s a promotional video:

You’re not likely to see any robot competitors at Pogopalooza just yet. But you will see dozens of athletes adept at high jumping, back flipping, and other tricks on pogo sticks vying for world record titles – several will be riding newly built pre-manufactured versions of BowGo. Nick Ryan, 20, a student at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University and the head organizer behind Pogopalooza 6, says that established national pogo groups will perform and amateur pogoers will have the chance to win prizes and perfect their skills. Most – if not all – U.S. pogo manufacturers will feature their respective products.

The conventional pogo stick uses a coiled steel spring. The pogo stick pole has a handle at one end, footpads on the other, a spring that supports you and the stick. Pogo sticks were originally patented in 1919 by George Hansburg, an Illinois furniture maker. The name is allegedly derived from "Pohlmann & Goppel," a manufacturer from Springe in Lower Saxony. With the conventional stick, you can jump only a few feet into the air. Bouncing on the BowGo, your feet are 15 inches above the bottom of the BowGo’s footpad, and you can attain dizzying heights using a fiber-reinforced composite (FRC) bow rather than a coiled spring. "Athletes riding BowGos are favored to win the high jump event [at Pogopalooza], possibly clearing 9 or 9 1/2 feet," says Nick Ryan.

BowGo’s pogo stick — developed for robotic legs –- is likely to dominate Pogopalooza, the annual gathering of the best extreme pogo athletes in the world.

Ben Brown, the Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute project scientist who invented BowGo, says that his pogo stick is particularly energetic because the FRC bow can store “2-5 times as much energy per unit mass, and precludes the sliding friction that results when long coil springs buckle sideways.”

The Bowgo Project. Photo credit: Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) robotics.

The BowGo is based on Brown’s BowLeg, a highly resilient leg being developed for running robots at the Robotics Institute. The key technology is the FRC bow to store elastic energy. Here’s a video with Nick Ryan and Dr. Brown describing extreme pogo using the BowGo pogo stick:

Not strictly a pogo stick inventor, Dr. Brown specializes in high-performance structures and mechanisms, elastic and kinetic energy storage, and dynamic stabilization of wheeled and legged robots. He began experimenting with hopping robots in the early 80s. About five years ago, when NASA expressed an interest in extraterrestrial robots that could leap or hop while exploring Mars and other planets, moons and asteroids, Brown begin thinking about running robots.

The BowGo Project. Photo credit: Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) robotics.h+ contacted Dr. Brown to ask him about the possibility of extraterrestrial robots with pogo stick legs. “One interesting concept is to use a high-hopping robot in a low-gravity environment, such as the moon,” says Brown. “Hopping many meters above ground level, the robot would have an excellent view of the terrain. In addition, the ballistic trajectory would provide a precise baseline for generating 3D vision data, equivalent to a multi-camera vision system with camera separation of meters. Such vision data could be used for mapping of terrain, navigation, and vehicle attitude control.”

Would this technology involve the FRC bow? “FRC springs have good elastic energy storage, compared to steel or other metallic springs,” explains Brown. “On the other hand, they may suffer from outgassing in vacuum, and do not work well at high temperatures. Metals would generally be better over a wide temperature range. There are, of course, ways to protect these springs from the environment, just as is done with other electrical and mechanical components.”

The leg technology at Carnegie Mellon is also being used in a climbing robot developed in the Manipulation Laboratory headed by Matt Mason, director of the Robotics Institute. The robot has two opposed bow legs and climbs between two adjacent walls by hopping between them. Its name —
Parkour — refers to the extreme outdoor sport of climbing over obstacles that first appeared in France.

What might such a robot look like? Check out this Nike ad:

Who needs springy shoes when your legs are pogo sticks? I want those legs!

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1 Response

  1. I don’t know about anyone else, but i’d be too paranoid that the bow would snap and smack me in the face!

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