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Circuit Breaker

This bionic spider can curl up and do somersaults

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German automation company Festo has a history of making kooky robotic versions of wildlife. It has previously constructed a kangaroo, an elephant trunk, and ants, and now, it has come up with a walking, rolling robot spider as well as a robotic flying fox, as spotted by IEEE Spectrum.

If the idea of a rolling spider seems terrible, let me cement your fears and assure you this robot is based on the very real flic-flac spider, which lives in the Sahara and escapes predators with cartwheels and flips. Bionics professor Ingo Rechenberg, who discovered the flic-flac spider, was involved in helping to design Festo’s version. It has eight legs which are controlled by 15 motors within the knee joints and body. When it rolls, it does a somersault with its whole body, tucking in six of the legs and using the remaining two to push off the ground with every rotation. Thanks to an integrated inertial sensor, the robot knows its position and when to push while rolling.

Festo has also created a bionic flying fox, something that required some out-of-the-box thinking when it came to creating the wings. “The model’s flying membrane is wafer-thin and ultralight whilst also robust,” says Festo. “It consists of two airtight films and a knitted elastane fabric, which are welded together at approximately 45,000 points. Due to its elasticity, it stays almost uncreased, even when the wings are retracted. The fabric’s honeycomb structure prevents small cracks in the flying membrane from getting bigger. This means that the BionicFlyingFox can continue flying even if the fabric sustains minor damage.” The flying fox can move semi-autonomously in a defined space by communicating with a motion-tracking system that constantly records its position.

Like Boston Dynamics’ SpotMini, these types of robots exist not just to terrify and delight, but to test out navigating complex situations — whether it's opening a door, crossing rocky terrain, or learning efficient flight paths. That said, I never want to think about a spider doing acrobatics toward me ever again.