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Sticky Space Spider

A robotic insect is designed to explore rough, alien terrain.

The insect-inspired robot shown in this video, called Abigaille-I, can potentially walk on the ceiling. The robot was developed by researchers at the Simon Fraser University, in BC, Canada, and the European Space Agency.

The researchers designed Abigaille-I to maximize use of dry adhesion (employed by geckos and some insects) and enlisted microfabrication techniques to make very small fibers that create enough grip to let the robot stick to surfaces. The adhesive material consists of 20-to-60-micrometer-tall fibers–the source of Abigaille-I’s sticking power. The video also shows a computer model of the next robot. It has six legs (each with six degrees of freedom) and 18 actively controlled joints.

Carlo Menon, a professor of engineering science at Simon Fraser, demonstrated the work at the 2008 BioRob Conference, showing that the robot can hang upside down.

Like a real spider, Abigaille-I peels a foot from a surface by moving its leg outward, so that the heel lifts before the front of the foot, without sliding. Its feet also rotate in three directions using ankle joints, allowing it to adapt to uneven surfaces.

To give the robot feedback on the position of its legs, the researchers use relatively cheap and lightweight sensors that detect a magnetic field. By placing magnets on the limbs below the joints, the sensors will detect the orientation of each leg as it moves. Menon told me that he and his team plan to test the spider-inspired climbing robot on a simulated Mars environment at the beginning of 2010.

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