This spider-like robot spins a plastic web to move through thin air

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If you watched the DARPA Robotics Challenge last month, you might have noticed that robots can have a lot of trouble traversing uneven terrain. There are exceptions, of course, but scientists are always looking for new ways to more capably get a robot from point A to point B.

At the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, that quest led researchers to develop a robot (subscription required) that can extrude and then descend down a thin string, much like a spider. But instead of silk, the line is made of melted plastic that hardens once it is exposed to air; kind of like a 3D printer or a hot glue gun. The line remains sticky for a while, which means the bot can stick it to a surface before descending. It travels at about 4.75 inches a minute on wheels that grip the plastic line.

So far, the researchers have only developed the ability for the spider bot to go up and down on the line. But New Scientist reported that they are now working on giving it the ability to spin a web horizontally between two surfaces. LiYu Wang, who works on the robot, told the magazine that it could then carry heavy items across the gap.

The spider robot could come in handy on little-understood planets or unexplored regions of earth where it is difficult to predict exactly what the terrain will look like. Right now, a flying robot would be the best option in that kind of scenario. A robot walking over a web could potentially carry a greater amount of weight than a flying one.

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