• 11.07.11

This Horrifying Mechanical Spider Is Actually Our Friend

The 3-D printed monstrosity of a giant arachnid is designed to venture into dangerous places–like the aftermath of a nuclear accident–where humans can’t go. It’s more Charlotte’s Web than Arachnophobia.

This Horrifying Mechanical Spider Is Actually Our Friend
Fraunhofer IPA

In the aftermath of the next Fukushima disaster, a creepy-looking 3-D printed artificial spider may be the first to survey the wreckage.


Developed by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation, this lightweight mock spider is equipped with measuring equipment, a camera, and locomotion components (including a control unit, valves and compressor pump) that allow it to crawl and even jump.

The robot’s creators imagine that the prototype device could one day be used in environments that are too difficult or dangerous for humans to access–the aftermath of a nuclear meltdown, a mine disaster, or a natural gas leak, for example.

The spider always has four of its legs on the ground; the other four are used to maneuver. To jump–yes, jump–the robot uses hydraulic drive bellows. Hinges allow the legs to turn and move forwards.

Despite its outward complexity, the spider is actually easy to build; it consists of a single component and requires just a few production steps using the selective laser sintering (SLS) process, which 3-D prints plastic by gradually applying thin layers of a fine powder and melting them with a laser beam . The process is reportedly so cheap that the spider can be tossed after just one use, “like a disposable rubber glove,” according to Ralf Becker, an IPA researcher. Or, say, like a dead spider.

No word on when the spider will start venturing into hazardous areas, but it will join a growing arsenal of disaster bots, including the cockroach-inspired DASH bot, the Snakebot, and the Gemini-Scout Mine Rescue Robot.

And whatever you do, don’t look up right now. There may be a 3-D printed spider clinging to the ceiling above you.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.