The fascinating field of biomimetics – biologically inspired engineering – is something we at Airedale Springs find truly captivating. This ingenious branch of engineering is constantly discovering new and innovative ways of advancing the engineering field by relying on the lessons that can be learned from the mother of invention – nature.
Whilst in its current form biomimetics may be a relatively new field, the principle behind it is ancient. For thousands of years people have been looking to nature to provide the solution to a variety of problems. And now it seems that nature has answered our calls once again!
Introducing the Cartwheeling Spider
In the heart of the Chebbi desert, in Morocco, lives a creature like no other – the Cebrennus rechenbergi, affectionately known as the flic-flac spider.
This curious arachnid may look like any other spider, but looks can be deceiving, and as far as spiders go it definitely stands out from the rest.
If you’re wondering why, it’s all down to this spider’s incredible locomotive abilities. When threatened, most animals, spiders included, exhibit what is known as the fight or flight response. Simply put, this means that they prepare to either stand their ground and fight, or run away to avoid being eaten. But the flic-flac likes to employ a rather different tactic altogether – it cartwheels!
That’s right, in the face of danger this arachnid performs an array of acrobatic flips that would leave most gymnasts in awe. Oh and that’s not all, not only does this spider attempt to cartwheel its way to safety, it literally flips in the face of danger too, propelling itself towards its enemies – in what we can only imagine is their attempt at Braveheart-style intimidation!
Whilst this might all seem a little bizarre, don’t let this arachnid’s antics fool you. This form of motion confers a considerable advantage, and is just another example of how smart nature can be.
In the barren sand dunes of the desert these spiders call home, running away is pointless, after all, there’s no place to hide!
The cartwheeling motion these spiders are masters of enables them to cover ground much faster, effectively doubling their speed from 3.3 feet per second to 6.6 feet per second. Pretty neat, right?!
Given the remarkable abilities of these hand-springing heroes, it’s perhaps unsurprising that they have captivated the interest of engineers in the biomimetics field.
After witnessing these arachnids in action German engineer and biomimetics expert Dr Ingo Rechenberg was inspired to draw on their locomotive abilities to design a new breed of robot.
If replicated, Rechenberg believes that the cartwheeling abilities of the flic-flac could enable engineers to develop bigger, better robots, which could be used for an exciting range of applications.
One such application is in the field of space exploration. That’s right, the intrepid engineer wants to develop a robot with similar talents to the flic-flac and send it to space. They believe that such a robot would be extremely adept at navigating the rough terrain on the surface of Mars.
Simply put, this is because a tumbling or rolling motion would allow more of the robot to be in contact with the surface it’s moving over at any one time. This would spread its weight over a larger area, allowing for greater traction and weight distribution than either wheels or legs can offer.
But it’s not only on Mars that this revolutionary robot could prove useful either, the ocean bed is another key territory it could help us to explore.
So far Rechenberg has already created a prototype robot that moves across the ground using a similar technique to the cartwheeling spider, and is currently working to develop this further.
It will be exciting to see what’s next for the cartwheeling spider and the developing robots it has inspired .
Here at Airedale Springs we’re passionate about engineering of all kinds and just couldn’t resist bringing your this incredible story. We like to think that all of our state of the art spring products, including our extension springs, are an innovation too, and understand how vital it can be to find the right spark of inspiration.
If you would like to know more about our high quality springs and the options we offer, then simply contact our friendly team, by giving us a call on 01535 643456 today.