Spider-shaped robot can access inhospitable terrain

A spider-shaped robot that can access inhospitable environments has been designed and manufactured at the Fraunhofer Institute.

The creators at Fraunhofer’s Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA believe the high-tech spider will be able to act as an exploratory tool to access places too difficult or dangerous for humans following events such as natural catastrophes or industrial accidents.

The robot has been created using an additive manufacturing technique that involved applying layers of a fine polyamide powder with the aid of a laser beam. This allowed the team to create the complex geometries, inner structures and lightweight components required for the robot.

Ralf Becker, project manager for additive manufacturing at IPA, told The Engineer: ‘At the moment, the prototype robot is programmed to walk in a specific style. In future, however, it will be upgraded with sensors and may become autonomous.’

The 1kg robotic arachnid will eventually have a built-in camera that is capable of broadcasting live images to humans on the ground. Becker said it will also carry several other sensors and feed back information on environmental factors such as the concentration of toxic gases in a given area.

The bionic computer-controlled robot is said to be able to navigate depressions, ruts and other obstacles, without tipping over. 

The components required for locomotion, such as the control unit, valves and compressor pump are located in the robot’s main body.

Becker said: ‘Integrating all the mechanical features into a small number of parts, which had to be fully functional, presented us with our biggest challenge.’

The robot’s body and its eight legs are fitted with elastic drive bellows, which operate pneumatically to bend and extend the artificial limbs.

‘The interesting thing is how cheap it is to build [€500]. This is a direct result of using 3D printing instead of conventional manufacturing techniques that often require a high degree of skill and take several days to complete,’ explained Becker.

‘Our robot is so cheap to produce that it can be discarded after being used just once — like a disposable rubber glove,’ he said in a statement.