Spiderman robot spins draglines to cross open space (w/ video)

January 31, 2014 by Lisa Zyga feature
Spider-inspired robots carrying payloads descend on their draglines. Credit: Wang, et al. ©2014 IOP Publishing Ltd

(Phys.org) —Inspired by spiders' abilities to produce draglines and use them to move across open space, researchers have designed and built a robot that can do the same. Similar to Spiderman shooting a dragline from his wrist, the robot produces a sticky plastic thread that it attaches to a surface, such as a wall or tree branch. Then the robot descends the dragline, while simultaneously continuing to produce as much line as needed. The mechanism could enable robots to move from any solid surface into open space without the need for flying.

The researchers, Liyu Wang, Utku Culha, and Fumiya Iida, at the Bio-Inspired Robotics Lab at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, have published a paper on the spider-inspired robot in a recent issue of Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.

"The dragline-forming robot is interesting because it implements a new concept: that a robot may accomplish a task by building structures to assist it," Wang told Phys.org. "It is advantageous because the robot can flexibly vary the structure (in this case, the thickness of the dragline) according to environments or tasks that cannot be anticipated."

At first glance, the robot doesn't look much like a spider, since it is about 3 times larger and made of an assortment of metal, wires, and onboard batteries. The source of its dragline material is a stick of thermoplastic adhesive (TPA), which functions similarly to a glue stick in a hot glue gun. When the robot is ready to produce a dragline, the solid TPA stick is pushed through a heating cavity and out of a nozzle. Two wheels located just beyond the nozzle help elongate and guide the dragline in the desired direction. The robot can form draglines with a thickness varying from 1 to 5 mm.

Since the hot TPA dragline is sticky, it can adhere to the from where the robot starts its journey into . Once the dragline is stuck on the surface, the robot can begin descending down the dragline while producing more of it, mimicking the way that spiders fall down their draglines in a controlled way. While spiders use a fourth pair of legs to move down their draglines, the robot relies on its two wheels for locomotion down the dragline.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Demonstration of the dragline-forming robot. Credit: Wang, et al.

In tests, the robot could form and move along its dragline at an average descending speed of 5 cm/min. The robot demonstrated dragline-assisted locomotion for distances of up to 82 cm, although there is no limitation to traveling distance unless the dragline material is used up. The researchers note that the TPA dragline material is potentially reusable, although this ability would require additional onboard mechanisms to retrieve and reuse the material.

In the future, the researchers plan to extend the robot's abilities to enable it to form multiple draglines in both vertical and horizontal directions, eventually forming grids that partially mimic a real spider web. In order to form dragline grids, the robot would need gecko-inspired adhesive legs instead of wheels so that it could easily move between draglines and solid surfaces.

Robots that form their own draglines for locomotion could have a wide variety of applications, particularly in unanticipated environments such as hazard removal and extraterrestrial exploration, among other uses. Although there are other mechanisms that allow robots to cross open space, such as flying or using existing cables, these options have their own sets of challenges such as the payload factor. In some situations, a spider-inspired may offer a less complex and more robust alternative.

Explore further: Untangling the mysteries of spider silk

More information: Liyu Wang, et al. "A dragline-forming mobile robot inspired by spiders." Bioinspir. Biomim. 9 (2014) 016006 (10pp). DOI: 10.1088/1748-3182/9/1/016006

Related Stories

Untangling the mysteries of spider silk

May 3, 2012

Spiders weave a web even more tangled than originally thought – at least on the nanoscale level, according to a new study performed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory.

DALER project shows a walking flying robot (w/ Video)

August 4, 2013

(Phys.org) —At the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems we are developing a novel flying platform which has the ability to move on the ground by using its wings only. Using the wings as whegs to move on rough terrains instead ...

NASA to add legs to giant robonaut aboard the ISS

November 11, 2013

(Phys.org) —NASA has announced its intention to add legs to the Robonaut 2 (R2) robot currently aboard the International Space Station (ISS), sometime next year. The move is part of a 50 year project (currently in year ...

Recommended for you

Internet giants race to faster mobile news apps

October 4, 2015

US tech giants are turning to the news in their competition for mobile users, developing new, faster ways to deliver content, but the benefits for struggling media outlets remain unclear.

Radio frequency 'harvesting' tech unveiled in UK

September 30, 2015

An energy harvesting technology that its developers say will be able to turn ambient radio frequency waves into usable electricity to charge low power devices was unveiled in London on Wednesday.

Professors say US has fallen behind on offshore wind power

September 29, 2015

University of Delaware faculty from the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment (CEOE), the College of Engineering and the Alfred Lerner School of Business and Economics say that the U.S. has fallen behind in offshore wind ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Jan 31, 2014
Gonna be a real pain in the ass cleaning up after them if the lines don't degrade.
not rated yet Feb 01, 2014
It moes even better than a real spider.
Such a grace.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.