3D Printing Spawns Robotic Spiders
3D printing is enabling all sorts of advancements in design and prototyping, and now some German engineers are leveraging the technology to produce low-cost, potentially disposable robotic spiders.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation in Stuttgart hope to use selective laser sintering (SLS) to create small, low-cost robots that look and walk like spiders. Using elastic drive bellows that generate pressure and pump fluid into the devices’ legs, the robotic arachnids can crawl and jump very much like the real thing.
The Fraunhofer team can generate interchangeable, modular parts for the robots using the 3D printers, increasing flexibility and lowering cost significantly. Thin layers of polyamide powder are applied and melted in place, allowing the group to produce “complex geometries, inner structures and lightweight components.” Leg modules can even be designed with variable load-bearing characteristics. According to the Fraunhofer website:
“We can use SLS to 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. With the modular approach, individual parts can be quickly swapped as well. Our robot is so cheap to produce that it can be discarded after being used just once – like a disposable rubber glove.“
— Ralf Becker, scientist at the Fraunhofer Institute.
Potential applications include rescue scenarios, in which the spiders could carry video cameras, measuring devices and sensors into hard-to-reach areas to transmit information back to rescuers. Once again, though, this contradicts ongoing efforts to make rescue robots less creepy, even more so than the cockroach robots we covered here. Not to mention their resemblance to the acid-spewing robotic spiders from that Tom Selleck movie, Runaway.
You can see a prototype in action at EuroMold 2011 in Frankfurt Nov. 29 (Hall 11, Stand C66).
Source: Fraunhofer Institute