Much of the recent research into jumping robots has used biology as an inspiration. UC Berkeley’s Tailbot, for example, uses a dinosaur-inspired actuated tail to help control its orientation while in mid-air. Other jumping species aren’t quite so lucky as to be equipped with tails, and have to find other ways of not tumbling helplessly mid-jump and face planting on landing.
One of the most prolific family of jumping animals is the jumping spider: there are something like 5,000 species around the world, and rather than building webs and just sitting around until something blunders into them, jumping spiders actively hunt their prey by using their excellent vision to spot lunch, chase it down, and pounce on it. Some jumping spiders, like the Phidippus audax pictured above, even steal lunch from other spiders (a behavior known as kleptoparasitism).
Jumping spiders might not build webs, but they can still produce silk, and they don’t like leaping into the void without a safety rope any more than you do. Before they jump, they tether themselves, and then release more silk as they fly, so that if they miss their target they can catch themselves and then climb back up to where they launched from. A few years ago, biologists took a closer look at the jumping spiders’ tether system, and realized that they used it for control as well as safety: by selectively applying tension to their safety tether, the spiders can control their pitch and make sure that they land right side up.
This combination of safety and control seems like a pretty good idea, right? So let’s teach robots to do it, too.