A Japanese Company Created Robotic Sewer Spiders

Alligators that live in the sewers of New York City may just be a myth, but now there’s a new critter to think about scurrying through the pipes. A Japanese company designed robotic spiders to scuttle through the sewers. But why, you may ask (while glancing suspiciously at your bathroom door)? While it may seem like the start of a horror movie, the idea is actually for the robots to inspect the over 300,000 miles of aging sewer lines throughout Japan. The “eyes” are actually LEDs to light the way and there’s a 360 degree camera mounted to the front. Because people cannot fit in the pipes, the robot operators use a game controller. 

We first saw these spider robots thanks to IEEE SpectrumTMSUK showed off the SPD1 design in a setup with three of the units tethered together. The front sewer spider navigates, the second finds areas of the pipes in need of repair, and the last one makes those repairs with tiny tools. The spider bodies can crouch down, adjusting to different inner pipe diameters. They may not be ready to deploy yet, but “sewer spiders” will likely creep more than a few people out.

This isn’t the first time engineers have used natural designs while building robots to help make our lives easier. There are robots in the shape of lizards that wriggle and move in unconventional ways and some that look like perching birds and are able to grip onto things. There are even tiny versions of arachnid robots already, along with other robotic creepy crawlies like bugs and worms.

Three spider robots demonstrating movement through a sewer pipe
Kazumichi Moriyama

Why can’t they all just be cute robotic dolphins that swim with humans in order to save the real animals from a life in captivity? That’s technology we can really get behind.

Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth. 

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