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Video: Leaping squirrels could help us build more agile robots

Video by Lawrence Wang, UC Berkeley

Nate Hunt, UC Berkeley

If you’ve ever watched squirrels jump through trees, you’ll notice they’re remarkably good at not falling.

They’re experts at making split-second decisions as they tear through canopies and grab onto man-made obstacles — a skill that recently inspired scientists to learn more about how they do it.

A team of researchers from the University of California Berkley observed wild fox squirrels as they participated in a number of trials to test their balance, leaping, and landing strategies.

Their findings were published on August 5 in the journal Science.

Photography by Alexandra Rudge/Moment/Getty Images

The squirrels had to launch themselves off of rods with varying stiffness and traverse gaps of different lengths.



Watch these squirrels decide how to navigate their leaps:

In slow motion, you can almost see this squirrel do mental math while it decides where it’s best to jump off the bendy rod.

Video by Nate Hunt, UC Berkeley

This squirrel takes a balanced leap off a rod and pushes itself upward once it reaches a platform in the wall.

Video by Nate Hunt, UC Berkeley


As conditions changed, the squirrels had to adjust their launch and landing strategies to make sure they reached their target.

Video by Nate Hunt, UC Berkeley

Sometimes, if the squirrels felt they wouldn’t have enough momentum to make a jump, they’d choose to parkour off walls instead.

Donald Iain Smith/Photodisc/Getty Images

Not only is it fascinating to break down their tactics, but the craftiness of these common mammals could even help inspire the next generation of agile robots, researchers say.

Photography by Alexandra Rudge/Moment/Getty Images

“If we try to understand how squirrels (leap), then we may discover general principles of high-performance locomotion in the canopy and other complex terrains that apply to the movements of other animals and robots.”

Video by Lawrence Wang, UC Berkeley

Maybe someday we’ll have machines that leap through trees.

Stephanie Starr / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images

Read more stories about animals here.

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