Creepy Robot Spider Crawls Out of 3-D Printer
The robot spider's legs are 20 centimeters long. Elastic bellows drives serve as joints.
CREDIT: Fraunhofer IPA
A rescue robot must have the mobility and balance to go where humans cannot, such as under the rubble of an earthquake-stricken city or inside the site of a nuclear reactor disaster. One of the best contenders has emerged in the shape of a jumping spider that bears an eerie resemblance to Mother Nature's own creepy crawlies.
The robot moves around as a real spider would by keeping four legs on the ground at all times while the other four prepare for the next step. Such mobility comes from combining rigid parts with an elastic body — a design that also allowed German researchers to create the robot spiders inexpensively by using 3-D printing.
"Our robot is so cheap to produce that it can be discarded after being used just once — like a disposable rubber glove," said Ralf Becker, a scientist at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation, in Stuttgart.
The spider robot's crawling and jumping abilities come from elastic drive bellows that act as joints. Instead of using muscles, the robot harnesses built-up body pressure to pump fluid into its legs to extend them. Bending the front pairs of legs pulls the robot spider along, and stretching its rear legs pushes it forward.
The current models have a control unit, valves and compressor pump in their body. In a disaster scenario, they could also carry video cameras, measuring devices and sensors to transmit information back to their human overseers.
The German team used 3-D printing to build up their robotic marvels layer by layer. During the process, a laser beam guided by a computer melts thin layers of polyamide powder to create the robot parts from the bottom up.
Such economic manufacturing allows the robotics researchers to almost effortlessly make modifications for new models. "We can .. 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," Becker said. "With the modular approach, individual parts can be quickly swapped as well."
A prototype of the robot is scheduled to appear in Frankfurt at the EuroMold 2011 trade fair (in Hall 11, Stand C66) from Nov. 29 through Dec. 2.