Spiders don't typically jump off ledges without some sort of plan. Many species of jumping spider (family Salticidae) will affix themselves to their perch with a silken thread that acts as a safety tether. Researchers at the University of Cape Town in South Africa have given their own robotic "spider" a similar capability.
This robot, named the LEAP (Line-Equipped Autonomous Platform), is made mostly from LEGO Technics pieces with a spool of nylon yarn acting as its safety line. As the robot falls, it adjusts the tension of the unwinding line using a DC motor. By adding or reducing its drag on the line, the LEAP can change its flight path. This doesn't work (yet) for controlling its yaw or pitch but the research team hopes to address these issues in a future iteration and, eventually, create a robot that can competently leap from its perch and still land on its feet.
This isn't the first time that spiders' natural abilities have been repurposed for the benefit of mankind. They could hold the key for ultrasensitive electronics, controllable drone swarms, and creepy-crawly 3D printing. Fingers crossed they incorporate this tethering technology into future high-rise fire escape systems -- no chutes or ladders, just climb onto a tethered platform that throws itself off the roof.
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