Designers of legged robots are challenged with creating mechanisms that allow energy-efficient locomotion with robust and minimalistic control. Sources of high energy costs in legged robots include the rapid loading and high forces required to support the robot’s mass during stance and the rapid cycling of the leg’s state between stance and swing phases. Here, we demonstrate an avian-inspired robot leg design, BirdBot, that challenges the reliance on rapid feedback control for joint coordination and replaces active control with intrinsic, mechanical coupling, reminiscent of a self-engaging and disengaging clutch. A spring tendon network rapidly switches the leg’s slack segments into a loadable state at touchdown, distributes load among joints, enables rapid disengagement at toe-off through elastically stored energy, and coordinates swing leg flexion.
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