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Jumping spiderbot made using 3D printing technique

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November 2, 2011

The eight-legged robot spider created by Fraunhofer researchers is made using a 3D printin...

The eight-legged robot spider created by Fraunhofer researchers is made using a 3D printing process

When it comes to deciding on a form of locomotion for their creations, roboticists have plenty of options to choose from. While many go for the tried and tested tank-like tracks or wheels, nature is also a veritable treasure trove of inspiration. That's just where Fraunhofer researchers have turned with a new eight-legged robot modeled on the same principle that moves spider legs. Not only does the design give the spiderbot the agility and stability of real spiders when getting around on the ground, it also features special joints that allow it to jump.

Like its biological brethren, the spiderbot is extremely stable, keeping four of its legs on the ground at any one time while the remaining four legs turn and ready themselves for the next step. Diagonally opposed members can also move simultaneously and bending the front pairs of legs pulls the spiderbot's body along, while stretching the rear legs pushes it.

As real spiders don't have extensor muscles at each of its leg joints, they rely on a sudden change in blood pressure in addition to the extensor muscles found on some joints to force the legs to extend rapidly and provide the full extension of the legs required for jumping. Borrowing this design, the researchers fitted the spiderbot's eight 20 cm (8 inch)-long legs and its body with pneumatically operated elastic drive bellows that bend and extend its legs with the force required to get it to jump.

The control unit, valves and compressor pump that provide the means of locomotion are located in the robot's body, which can also be fitted with various measuring devices and sensors, depending on the job at hand.

Instead of producing the robot using conventional mechanical-engineering technologies, the Fraunhofer team turned to a 3D printing process called selective laser sintering (SLS) that sees thin layers of a polyamide powder applied one at a time and melted into place using a laser. Not only does this process allow complex geometries and inner structures to be produced, but the resulting robot is also very lightweight and cheap to produce.

"We can use SLS to produce one or even several legs in a single operation; this minimizes assembly effort, saves materials and reduces the time it takes to build a robot. With the modular approach, individual parts can be quickly swapped as well. Our robot is so cheap to produce that it can be discarded after being used just once - like a disposable rubber glove," says Ralf Becker, a scientist at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (IPA).

Although the spiderbot is still just a prototype, the researchers envision it could be used to explore environments that are hazardous or too difficult to access for humans, such as natural disaster areas and industrial or reactor accident sites. It could also be used to assist first responders and fire departments by broadcasting live images or tracking down hazards or leaking gas.

The Fraunhofer team will be displaying a prototype of the robot at the EuroMold 2011 trade fair that runs from November 29 to December 2 in Frankfurt.3

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
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12 Comments

I'll be really impressed when they make a fully functional "ready for use" robot with the 3d printer, and the robot walks off of the printer, so another one can be made.

tflahive
3rd November, 2011 @ 09:43 am PDT

wowowo!

Kirill Belousov
3rd November, 2011 @ 10:00 am PDT

They say it can walk and even jump but then say it is just a prototype. Does this mean it has had it's joints tested and could theoretically do those things or have they actually had it walk? It's pretty cool at any rate.

Snake Oil Baron
3rd November, 2011 @ 02:51 pm PDT

Yes , a very cool idea.

I want to know how fast it can move and what kinds of obstacles it can climb over or on top of.

Perhaps get a whole bunch of these together and have them "help" each other overcome obstacles as a collective group.

Jim Andrews
3rd November, 2011 @ 05:01 pm PDT

I want to see a robot scarab that can carry a big payload!

Carlos Grados
3rd November, 2011 @ 05:04 pm PDT

It's creepy - kill it.

Mr Stiffy
3rd November, 2011 @ 07:50 pm PDT

The way spiders are built is why their legs curl under when they die. Their fluid pressure drops and the leg muscles contract.

Gregg Eshelman
4th November, 2011 @ 02:07 am PDT

Wow amazing. 3D printing is impressing me everyday. Lots of things you can do with it. Been searching the net for printing services and this is just what I needed to read today.

curtis2k11
4th November, 2011 @ 03:31 am PDT

Danger Will Robinson. Danger.



Brutal McKillins
4th November, 2011 @ 12:20 pm PDT

Snake Oil Baron,

"Prototype" means what it always has, namely that it's one of a kind, not a production model.

McKillins,

Why would you pick a scene from such a bad movie? This looks more like the "facehugger" from the 1986 Aliens movie. (The facehugger from the Alien movie before that wasn't mobile so it didn't count.)

Gadgeteer
4th November, 2011 @ 04:14 pm PDT

Not only could its descendants be used for bad, if made from alloys, should be used for routine operations within closed cycle nuclear energy generation. The molten salt reactors, proven 50 years ago, are FAR superior to the overtly erroneous light water reactors we rely upon today, which are so inherently unsafe. Yet, the molten salt reactors (which also fision thorium, a non proliferation material, will need periodic parts replacements due to the corrosive nature of the salts (assumingly). Robotics also may be needed for constant valve opening and closing, etc. in the extreme environment.

Wonder if this printing process can ever make robotics out of the materials suitable for such?

Robert Bernal
5th November, 2011 @ 10:37 am PDT

Damn, 3D printed robots walking off the assembly lines...? Doesn't this remind anyone of any apocalyptic story.... Terminator anyone...? As far fetched as that story is...I'd hate to see part of it come true.

Gerald Badoz
6th November, 2011 @ 09:31 am PST
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