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Scientists train regal jumping spider called Kim to leap on demand


Scientists have trained a spider to jump on demand as part of work to develop agile mini-robots.

The regal jumping spider – named Kim – was trained by a team at the University of Manchester.

Officially named Phidippus regius, the arachnids measure about 2cm long and have a natural ability to jump up to six times their body length.

And if that wasn’t impressive enough, clever Kim can now jump on demand.

A graphic from the study shows Kim leaping from a low platform to a higher one. Credit: Nature Scientific Journal
Image:
A graphic from the study shows Kim leaping from a low platform to a higher one. Pic: Nature Scientific Journal

Lead scientist Dr Mostafa Nabawy and her team hope that learning how Kim makes her leaps might help with the development of a generation of robots inspired by nature.

Dr Nabawy said: “The focus of the present work is on the extraordinary jumping capability of these spiders.

“A jumping spider can leap up to six times its body length from a standing start. The best a human can achieve is about 1.5 body lengths.

“The force on the legs at take-off can be up to five times the weight of the spider – this is amazing and if we can understand these biomechanics we can apply them to other areas of research.”

The team obtained four jumping spiders for the research – but found Kim was the only one who “showed any inclination to jump as required”.

She was trained to jump on demand from different heights and distances on a man-made platform, with her leaps recorded using ultra high-speed cameras.

The scientists did not use prey or bait as an incentive, but instead transported the spider between take-off and landing platforms until she became familiar with the challenge.

Micro CT scans were taken to create a 3D virtual model of her legs and body structure.

The results showed Kim used different jumping strategies depending on the challenge she was presented with.

For short distances she favoured a faster, lower trajectory, which used up more energy but minimised flight time.

This made the jump more accurate and effective for capturing prey.

Longer distance jumps of the sort used to cross rough terrain were slower and more energy efficient.

It is not the first time scientists have used nature for inspiration, with fleas and grasshoppers previously providing some inspiration for jumping robots, according to the team’s report, which is published in the Nature Scientific Reports journal.



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