Robots are good at a lot of things, but not so good at traveling from one place to another. They fall down. They run out of juice really fast if they have to walk any distance before they get to their actual task. They get confused or completely stopped by things that humans would hardly notice, like reflections or steps or cables on the floor.
A lot of effort has gone into creating robots capable of walking, but it’s a continuing problem. Just when you come up with a system where robots have a full-time human watching them and asking people to move out of their way…
Well, you either decide that this is not a task worth hiring someone for, or the robot runs into a human that doesn’t speak the local language, and you’re back at square one.
Researchers at the University of Manchester have come up with a new idea. At least, an idea that is new in the context of robots. Specifically, they’re figuring out a way to get robots to jump like jumping spiders.
Jumping spiders can jump six times their own length. A robot that could do that would not have to navigate floors or cope with people trying to navigate with or around them. We’re pretty confident that a human being seeing an industrial robot leaping across the factory floor with eight legs outstretched would just turn around and take another route.
There are catches, obviously. For one thing, the robots would have to be much smaller than the typical industrial robot. “Micro robot” is the term they’re using. For another, the researchers haven’t actually be able to replicate the movements of a jumping spider yet.
They’ve done enough work, however, to feel that robots shouldn’t always be modeled on people or dogs. Jumping spiders have not only some truly impressive muscle power, but also a finely honed ability to choose the right jump for energy efficient attacking of their prey.