The February 2023 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Cartwheeling Spider Robots Conquer Sand Dunes

Robots inspired by cartwheeling spiders traverse sand dunes in Morocco

1 min read
Cartwheeling Spider Robots Conquer Sand Dunes
Photo: Ingo Rechenberg/TU Berlin

In Morocco, there are spiders that know how to do cartwheels. They can cartwheel down sand dunes, and also up sand dunes, which is more than a little bit remarkable. The scientist who found them, Ingo Rechenberg (a professor at the Technical University of Berlin), does what you do when you find an animal with a unique and ingenious mode of locomotion: you make a robot that does the same sort of thing.

There isn't a lot of information on the robots themselves, except that one of them is named Tabbot, which comes from tabacha, the word for spider in the language spoken by the local Berbers. Rechenberg suggests that the robot "may be employed in agriculture, on the ocean floor, or even on Mars."

Photo: Ingo Rechenberg/TU Berlin

Robots that roll and tumble definitely have a lot of potential when it comes to negotiating rough terrain, like sand, rocks, or even wet and slippery surfaces. These robots use large portions of their bodies to come into direct contact with the ground, which often allows for better weight distribution and traction than legs or wheels. It's sort of like having tank treads or other high-traction mobility system, except that by rolling, the robot can be significantly more energy efficient.

Whether or not these robots end up doing anything practical, we always love to see creative bioinspired designs that actually work like the animals that they're based on.

[ TU Berlin ] via [ NatGeo ]

The Conversation (0)

The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

Keep Reading ↓Show less