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Robotic "Spiderman" Device Unveiled

A new grappling hook could let robots swing from tree to tree.

Today, at the International Conference on Field and Service Robotics here in Cambridge, MA, robotics professor and prolific inventor Shigeo Hirose, from the Tokyo Institute of Technology, presented a grappling-hook system designed to help robots get over difficult terrain.

Hirose says that he was inspired by Batman’s grappling hook and the way that Spiderman stays in constant motion using a repetitive tether-and-swing action.

After modeling several different designs, Hirose settled on a pneumatic hook with a controlled launching winch and a braking spool to avoid tangling the rope. Once launched, the hook rotates because of its center of gravity and grips whatever’s beneath it.

Hirose has tested prototypes on the wheeled Helios-VI robot and plans to let a robot use two or three of the grappling systems to work its way up over rough terrain by continually launching. Take a look at the clip below for the latest version of Hirose’s grappling hook.

During the conference lunch, I caught up with Hirose. He was one of the first researchers to develop a robot modeled on a snake back in the 1970s. This design has since inspired surgical snake-like robots and search-and-rescue snake robots that other groups are developing today. Hirose told me he expects that such robots will be used in the field within three years. He also gave the afternoon’s plenary talk on his menagerie of walking, slithering, and climbing robots and on plans for implementing these robots in military, rescue, construction, and space settings.

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