While we’ve seen scientists find new ways to use insects after they die, it’s hard to imagine a group of researchers surpassing the work of a team at Rice University that turned inanimate wolf spiders into “necrobotic” claws. Yes, you read that right – and no, you’re not the only one with a sudden phantom itch.
how did we get here Well I’m glad you asked. Let’s start with an anatomy lesson. Unlike humans, spiders do not have antagonistic pairs of muscles to move their limbs. Instead, they rely on blood pressure and flexor muscles, which allow their legs to curve inward. A chamber in its head contracts to send blood outward, and this hydraulic pressure allows a spider to stretch its legs. Because of this, arachnids curl up when they die. Their hearts stop beating and they lose the ability to put pressure on their bodies.
Incidentally, the sight of a dead spider inspired the Rice University team to look into the possibility of using one as a claw, and they’ve been working on the project since 2019. “This area of soft robotics is very fun because we can use previously untapped types of actuation and materials,” said Assistant Professor of Engineering Daniel Preston. “The spider falls in this direction of investigation. It’s something that has never been used before but has a lot of potential.”
Once Professor Preston’s team understood how spiders move their legs, it was easy to turn them into robots that could lift more than their own body weight. The procedure consisted of sticking a needle into the arachnid’s prosoma chamber and securing it with a dab of superglue. A handheld syringe or laboratory device attached to the other end allowed the researchers to direct a small amount of air into the cavity, which in turn caused the dead spider to immediately stretch its legs. The resulting mechanism was capable of about 1,000 open and close cycles.
According to Preston, potential use cases include assembling microelectronics and trapping insects. As TechCrunch points out that it’s hard to imagine anyone selling necrobotic wolf spiders on a large scale. But if nothing else comes out of the project, at least you know how spiders move their limbs. Next time you see a dead one, you can share this fun fact with a friend or family member. I know I will
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https://www.engadget.com/rice-university-necrobotic-grippers-171454976.html?src=rss Researchers turned dead spiders into literal claw machines