By Keerthi Chandrashekar ( | First Posted: Dec 10, 2012 11:45 PM EST

(Photo : Boston Dynamics)

A robot's mobility may be its most limiting factor, giving the number of man-made obstacles such as stairs, doors, and walls that exist in our societies. Robotics company Boston Dynamics is seeking to change that by giving their robots increased degrees of mobility. One of their current projects, the Sand Flea has the ability to jump 30 feet in the air.

The tiny robot looks like a child's RC car, and jumps 30 feet into the air using a piston to launch itself off the ground. To put the Sand Flea's jumping ability to scale, a human-sized Sand Flea would be able to jump around 30 stories.

"Sand Flea is an 11 pound robot that drives like an RC car on flat terrain, but can jump 30 ft into the air to overcome obstacles," writes Boston Dynamics.

Boston Dynamics claims that this is high enough to clear sets of stairs, a house's roof, and even high enough to jump over compound walls. The Sand Flea was developed with funding from the U.S. Army's Rapid Equipping Force (REF).

The Sand Flea is described as having the ability to drive over mild terrain. According to the Sand Flea data sheet, the robot measures 13 inches long, 18 inches wide, and 6 inches high. The Sand Flea can travel at 3.4 miles per hour, and its jumps can be adjusted anywhere from 3.3 feet to 30 feet. Users can even control the angle of the jump to ensure that the robot lands where it's supposed to. The robot's battery gives it juice for two hours, or 25 jumps.

The Sand Flea's wheels help cushion the robot's landing, and an automatic onboard stability system ensures that the Sand Flea doesn't spiral out of control. The Sand Flea is also equipped with a camera that can take video at 320X240 pixels and still images at 1280X960 pixels. The Sand Flea even comes with infrared illuminators.

The REF helped produce the Sand Flea for use in risky reconnaissance missions. With its jumping ability and relatively small size, the Sand Flea is easily recognizable as a useful spy tool. It can clear obstacles that even humans can't. With the jumping precision of the Sand Flea, the military wouldn't have to risk human lives in order to maneuver through tight situations and get that valuable piece of intel.

There is something else far less dangerous that the Sand Flea could be utilized for - if it looks like an RC car, why not make it one? A toy car that can jump 30 feet in the air would certainly appeal to any young boy, and even a dumbed down version that can jump 10 feet (that's still the height of a regulation basketball hoop) would be fun to play with. Hell, I'd buy one. Don't expect it to hit Toys R' Us anytime soon, however, as the technology behind the Sand Flea is still being focused on giving the United States an edge in the battlefield.

Check back tomorrow for another installment of our Applied Robotics series titled: "Applied Robotics: How Robots Could Change Life - Robots That Make Their Own Decisions, Even When Things Go Wrong."

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