When most of us think of spiders, we think about little bugs that live in a web and try to catch bugs to eat. Not all spiders make webs though; some of them hunt their food and then jump to grab it. These jumping spiders are the inspiration behind a robot constructed at the University of Cape Town in South Africa called LEAP.
LEAP stands for Line-Equipped Autonomous Platform and the robot was created to see if it could replicate the jumping prowess of the spider. The little robot isn’t one of the large robots you might expect from a university, it’s a small bot about 5cm x 6.5cm x 9.5cm made of LEGO Technic.
When the spider jumps, it uses a silk strand it creates as a tether that it can pull on selectively to ensure that it will land upright. LEAP uses the same idea with a braided nylon line that unspools as the robot is in the air during a jump, or more appropriately during flight from a catapult.
LEAP is flung into the air rather than jumping under its own power. The robot uses periodic dragline braking to alter the direction it is pitching for a controlled landing. This allows the robot to land right side up. Future research will focus on non-planar motion with the goal of creating closed-loop jump stabilization.