Humans have mastered acrobatics for centuries, but robots? They’ve barely learned how to jump, and Disney Research wants to fix that. It recently developed a human-scale robot, Stickman, that can perform aerial stunts with a grace closer to that of its fleshy counterparts. Much like a person, it tucks into a ball in mid-flight to perform backflips and other stunts. A combination of inertial motion sensing and a trio of laser rangefinders give the robot motion and height data that help it decide when to untuck and land safely.
As you’ve no doubt noticed, Stickman isn’t about to compete with gymnasts any time soon when it doesn’t even have feet, let alone a humanoid body. This is an important start, however, and it could have implications beyond putting on a show for a human audience. It could help robots overcome obstacles that most people would consider impassable, and help them survive landings when they fall from great heights. While it’s hard to completely shake the thought of a creepy robot chasing you down with flips and somersaults, that maneuverability could prove a lifesaver in rescue situations.