Gizmos & Gadgets: A Robot Called the SandFlea

Sand Fleas are pesky little creatures that inhabit tropical beaches and can leave a very irritating bite. They are crustaceans and you can see one in the picture below. They feed on organic debris and have prodigious leaping abilities.


A company spun out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in looking at characteristics to meet a request for a mobile robot made by the United States Defense Department studied the Sand Flea’s leaping ability and built this characteristics into a machine of the same name that could operate in battlefield conditions.

The company is Boston Dyamics, developers of the BigDog, a rough terrain robot that I have briefly mentioned in a previous posting. Boston Dynamics are also designers of a number of other robots, most of them with military application. It’s worth a visit to their website to look at some of these – robots that run as fast as a Cheetah and bear that name, and a robot that can crawl and climb almost anywhere called RHex. A visit will give you a glimpse into battlefields of the near future.

Just recently Popular Science named the SandFlea, BigDog’s little sister, the Grand Award Winner in the Best of What’s New for 2012. Weighing about 5 kilograms (11 pounds) with a form factor 33 centimeters (13 inches) by 46 centimeters (18 inches) and standing 15 centimeters (6 inches) tall, SandFlea crawls, hops and jumps using its built-in piston actuator and laser-based ranging to guide each launch. It can leap heights of up to 8 meters (26 feet) landing on big rubber wheels to absorb the shock.

The SandFlea can leap "small" buildings in a single bound while providing a video feed to a remote operator.   Source: Boston Dynamics

The SandFlea can leap “small” buildings in a single bound while providing a video feed to a remote operator. Source: Boston Dynamics

Each SandFlea has an on board camera with live video feed, controlled by a remote operator. It can travel at top speeds of 5.5 kilometers (3.4 miles) per hour. Powered by a lithium-polymer battery SandFlea operates for up to 2 hours and can do 25 hops before needing a recharge.

You can watch the Sand Flea in action here. But if you are thinking of buying one you’ll have to talk to the U.S. Military. They currently are not for sale for commercial operators.


Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...


  • Amazing robot, Len. How does it achieve the 8 metre jump? I can’t think of a way to do that. My friend Ralph, in San Francisco has been building robots for years, but so far, nothing that looks as robust as this must bee, to withstand either the landing after an 8 metre jump or the jump itself.