Each spider robot has an individual 3D-printer arm that allows them to directly “print” an object through guided motions.
Before starting their work, the spider robots use cameras and laser scanners to look at the local workspace.
Knowing the workspace means the robots can position themselves accordingly to build an object in the most efficient way possible.
Instead, the company hopes the ambitious vision can inspire spin-off technologies that improve the capabilities of robots to work together in groups.
“What we really aim at is not the specific application this could be turning into, but all the cluster of technologies that could spin out of this and could lead to potential results down the line for the company,” says Livio Dalloro, head of Research Group at Siemens Corporate Technology.
“It’s not the robot in itself, but for us it’s a killer research application.” The spider robots currently consist of off-the-shelf models outfitted with consumer-grade 3D printers.
Most popular 3D printers work by using spools of plastic filament as their raw materials, melting the plastic filament, and then squirting the heated plastic out through a nozzle.
Siemens researchers also had to figure out a way for the spider robots to have access to the spools of plastic filament as they climbed around their workspace.
The current solution involves pairing each spider robot up with a “sidekick” robot on wheels that carries the spools of 3D printing material.
(The spider robot experiments currently use a biodegradable material made from cornstarch and sugarcane called polylactic acid.) “We completely reprogrammed the second robot to follow as a sidekick for the spider robot but on a ground level,” Dalloro explains.
In the classic children’s book “Charlotte’s Web,” humans are amazed by a talented spider that can weave words into her web.
Spider-inspired robots could also someday amaze humans by behaving as mobile 3D printers that construct artificial structures instead of spinning silk webs.