Cartwheeling spider inspires robot

“I love when the public gets excited by a spider," said spider expert Peter Jäger. "That doesn’t happen very often."
By Brooks Hays  |  May 6, 2014 at 1:50 PM
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FRANKFURT, Germany, May 6 (UPI) -- The newly discovered flic-flac spider is the gold medal gymnast of the arachnid world, cartwheeling and summersaulting its way along the sand dunes of Morocco's Erg Chebbi deserts, which border the Mediterranean coast.

The flic-flac spider, Cebrennus rechenbergi, is also the inspiration for a new robot.

Ingo Rechenberg, a scientist at the Technical University of Berlin, in Germany, discovered the flic-flac spider on an unrelated expedition to North Africa. After studying the spider's movements in depth, Rechenberg decided to build a robot prototype which mimicked the flic-flac's topsy-turvy motions.

Like the spider, Rechenberg's new robot -- named Tabbot, a variation of "tabacha," the Berber word for spider -- can both walk and somersault. The flic-flac spider, which is nocturnal, usually employs its unusual acrobatics in order to escape a sticky situation, or to bum-rush potential predators.

"This robot may be employed in agriculture, on the ocean floor, or even on Mars," Rechenberg said.

Peter Jäger, a spider expert at the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, Germany, helped Rechenberg confirm that he had discovered a new species -- a type of huntsman spider adept at stalking and catching pray by burying themselves in the sand before executing a surprise attack.

"As soon as he discovered the spider, he came directly to my lab, still covered in sand and dust," Jäger recently told National Geographic.

Jäger said he's just excited people are paying attention to a spider: “I love when the public gets excited by a spider," he said. "That doesn’t happen very often."

Rechenberg and Jäger's research is detailed in the online journal ZooTaxa.

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