A Spider Trained to Jump on Command Can Help Scientists Create Tiny Leaping Robots

Tuesday, 08 May 2018 - 6:35PM
Technology
Robotics
Tuesday, 08 May 2018 - 6:35PM
A Spider Trained to Jump on Command Can Help Scientists Create Tiny Leaping Robots
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YouTube/University of Manchester Media Relations
While spiders can make good pets, they don't usually come with the same expectations as a dog. You can feed them and watch them crawl around, but you can't teach them many tricks.

But impressively, a group of researchers at the University of Manchester have actually trained a regal jumping spider (Phidippus regius) to leap on command to help them out with research. The spider, nicknamed "Kim", has learned how to jump at different heights and distances in a controlled lab setting, so the researchers can closely track and record its movements using high-resolution cameras.

Their research was just published in Nature Scientific Reports. You can watch the little fella go below:



With those high-resolutions recordings, as well as some 3D computed tomography (CT) scans, the researchers are now able to examine the spider's impressive jumping capabilities in more detail than ever before, looking at minute little details in the spider's form as it takes off. The team already put together some computer models of Kim's jumps using the new data.

They also picked up other details as well, like how Kim would take on a faster trajectory that uses more energy for shorter jumps, in order to minimize its flight time. While in other scenarios, Kim was more likely to prefer methods and trajectories that take up less energy. According to Mostafa Nabawy, the study's lead author, who said the following in a press release from the University of Manchester:

Opening quote
"The focus of the present work is on the extraordinary jumping capability of these spiders. A jumping spider can leap up to six times its body length from a standing start. The best a human can achieve is about 1.5 body lengths. The force on the legs at take-off can be up to 5 times the weight of the spider - this is amazing and if we can understand these biomechanics we can apply them to other areas of research."
Closing quote


Beyond knowledge for knowledge's sake, the researchers also have another goal that they can now start working on: building more accurate micro-robots that can jump just like the spiders.

Robots inspired by spiders are hardly a new idea, but with the precise data they've taken from their trained spider, who's had millions of years of natural selection to perfect those jumping skills, a micro-robot could be much more minutely designed to jump as efficiently and powerfully as possible.

Considering most other spider-inspired robots mostly just incorporate some traits and the general shape of the spider, these micro-robots could be among the most spider-like yet.

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