Spider-Man can leap off tall buildings and swing through the New York skyline by shooting a dragline from his wrist. Now there is a spider-inspired robot that can perform the same trick. It could be used to explore rocky planets, spinning itself a line to abseil down when it comes to the edge of a cliff, for example.
“Spiders travel around surface-free space between tree branches and can position themselves in mid-air,” says LiYu Wang, who has developed the robot alongside colleagues at the Bio-Inspired Robotics Lab at ETH Zürich in Switzerland.
“There is no technology that allows a robot to do the same thing except flying, and then the amount of payload they can carry becomes a major issue.”
To spin the dragline, the robot uses thermoplastic adhesives, which are solid at room temperature but form a liquid when heated to around 70 °C.
A stick of the material is fed into a small chamber and heated, before being fired out of a nozzle into the open air, where it begins to harden into a line. As it is pushed out of the nozzle, the line passes between two motor-controlled wheels, which grab it and help to pull the cable out of the device.
*Also see http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-3190