Reminiscent of the Star Wars battle droids, the BionicWheelBot robotic spider was actually inspired by the flic-flac spider (cebrennus rechenbergi). In its native Sahara Desert habitat, that spider walks normally on uneven ground, but rolls/somersaults across smooth terrain – doing so is twice as fast as walking.
Ingo Rechenberg, who is a professor of bionics at the Technical University of Berlin, first discovered the spider in 2008. Since then, he has designed various robots that utilize its form of locomotion. For the BionicWheelBot, he collaborated with members of Festo’s bionics team.
Equipped with 15 motors and remotely-controlled via a tablet, the robot moves along on six of its spring-loaded legs when in walking mode, with the other two folded up beneath its body. When it’s time to roll, those six walking legs fold to transform into two “wheels,” while the two previously-folded legs extend out to either side to push the rolled-up robot along – an onboard inertial sensor allows it to know what position it’s in, so it knows when to push off again.