Tiny Dancing Spider Crickets Could Lead to Better Robotics

By Jennifer Ouellette on at

Spider crickets are masters of aerodynamics. They don’t have wings, but they can jump up to 60 times their body length — equivalent to a human track star jumping the length of a football field. Now a team of engineering students at Johns Hopkins University has videotaped the critters in slow motion and discovered some of their aerodynamic secrets.

“These videos have actually been quite eye-opening,” said Rajat Mittal, a professor of mechanical engineering at JHU who supervised the students doing the research. “It’s only when you slow these critters down that you really start to see the beauty and the intricacy of their movement. The analogy that comes to mind is of a ballerina performing a ballet. It’s a very beautiful, controlled, intricate motion.”

The slowed-down footage revealed that the insects streamline their bodies as they jump up, making like mini-projectiles so they can travel farther while in the air. And they ingeniously use their limbs (and sometimes their antennae) for flight stability, making it easier to stick the landing. Landing on their feet puts them in good position to quickly leap back into the air should a predator be lurking nearby.

After capturing all that fine slo-mo buggy footage, Mittal’s students transferred the data to computers and built three-dimensional models for how each body part moved as the insects leapt and landed. That should help with the design of future tiny jumping robots — say, to search for buried victims following an earthquake or similar disaster, or explore the terrain of distant planets. (In the past, Mittal’s lab has studied which Olympic swimming stroke is the most superior, and analysed the mechanics of butterflies in flight.)

The group will present its research findings next month at the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics meeting in Boston.

[Via Nanowerk News]