Spiders are not known as complex creatures. Few people would casually imagine a spider jumping, but 13 percent of the more than 450,000 species of spiders can aggressively stalk prey and jump at them akin to an eight-legged tiger. What would be even more surprising to most people is that scientists may be able to use knowledge gained from spiders to construct jumping robots.
What’ s so special about spiders’ jumps?
Shockingly, spiders are able to jump six times the distance of their own body length. For sake of comparison, humans can only leap 1.5 times their own height.
Who cares about how and why spiders jump? Well, scientists are curious to learn more because translating the spiders’ leaping mechanisms into engineering strategies could help advance the robots that we construct and deploy.
How do spiders jump?
Researchers from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom conducted a study in which they trained a regal jumping spider (Phidippus regius) named Kim to leap across multiple distances of an obstacle course.
The findings, which were published in Scientific Reports, examined the mechanisms by which spiders make long and precise leaps. The main finding is that short-range jumps often use low-angled trajectories that minimize flight time. Thus, short-range leaps were more rapid and precise. In contrast, longer jumps tended to use steeper take-off angles. This optimized flight time and enabled the spider to leap a longer distance, while minimizing the amount of energy exerted.
Why do we care?
The primary goal of the study was to identify whether this species of spider used hydraulics in addition to muscles to power its leaps. Unfortunately, the scientists were not able to confirm it for certain, but they did discover that spiders’ leaps may be possible due solely to the power provided by leg muscle mass.
Replicating the jumping physics for a flying or jumping robot could help eliminate lots of the biomechanical constraints that restrict most robots to the ground. This could spark a new era of robots in the future.