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Robot base jumps from wall

Paraswift is the first robot that can climb a vertical surface and deploy a paraglider for a safe return to earth. It demonstrates how robots are becoming increasingly versatile at moving around human environments.

Extreme-sports junkies, meet Paraswift, the robot that wants to be as cool as you. It is able to climb the walls of tall buildings, jump off and deploy a parachute to soften the landing.

The base-jumping robot was built with entertainment value in mind, though the point-of-view footage captured by its onboard video cameras could find practical use in creating 3D models of the environment.

"For example, with Google Street View, at street level, trees and pedestrians could obscure the view," Lukas Geisssmann, a doctoral student at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, told New Scientist.


The robot, he noted, could scurry up the sides of nearby buildings and get aerial views that could be used to complete the picture.

ETH built the Paraswift in collaboration with Disney Research. Geissmann presented the robot earlier this month at the Conference on Climbing and Walking Robots and the Support Technologies for Mobile Machines in Paris. 

To stick to the wall as it climbs, Paraswift uses an impeller, a rotor spinning in a tube that creates a mini-tornado-like vortex that's essentially a partial vacuum.

Other robots climb using snake-like articulations to wrap themselves around scaffolding, or magnetic adhesion to climb metallic surfaces, or even mimic the stickiness of a gecko's foot to climb walls.

One of the advantages of Paraswift's impeller vacuum-like suction is its ability to cling to a variety of surfaces and then, when it's ready, deploy a parachute and jump.

Unlike some thrill-seeking base jumpers, the robot deploys its parachute before turning off its impeller and leaping from the building.

Despite the extra caution before leaping, its landing, at least from the video above, doesn't look entirely soft. That's Ok, says ETH, since Paraswift is encased in a shell of fiber-reinforced plastic to protect the robot against impact.

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John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com.

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