Dead spiders tend to curl up in a rather creepy clawed position, but beyond looking a little ominous it seems their lifeless bodies may have useful applications in robotics. Scientists from Rice University have harnessed the unusual locomotion mechanism of wolf spiders to create a new type of robotics they’ve coined “necrobotics”.
That’s right. We’re making robots out of dead spiders now.
The necrobots are described in a paper published in Advanced Science that demonstrates in videos exactly how one might employ their dead wolf spider necrobot. In one, we see a necrobot disrupting an electrical circuit, another we see it picking up an object, and we even get a look at a wolf spider necrobot picking up another dead spider.
How one goes about turning the corpse of a spider into a robot ties into how these animals move. Rather than using muscles, spiders rely on hydraulic pressure to get their eight limbs moving. A nifty bit of kit called the prosoma chamber enables them to direct bodily fluids to their legs, with an infusion of liquid extending the limb while a reduction in volume sees it return to its default clawed position.
“It happens to be the case that the spider, after it’s deceased, is the perfect architecture for small scale, naturally derived grippers,” said Daniel Preston of Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering, who worked on the study, in a statement.
Using a needle and some superglue, researchers created a seal in the prosoma chamber so they could effectively inject air into the spider’s limbs, causing them to inflate and extend. Reducing that air pressure then allowed the legs to close in again, creating a mechanical gripper made of biotic materials, even if they are a bit dead.
Biohybrid robots aren’t anything new (remember the human-skinned robot finger?) but utilizing the material of a deceased organism in this way is novel which is why the researchers consider their dead spider bots to have initiated a new area of robotics: “necrobotics”.
The new avenue of research adds a further string to Professor Preston’s engineering bow, being well versed in soft robotics and always on the lookout for new materials to work with.
“This area of soft robotics is a lot of fun because we get to use previously untapped types of actuation and materials,” he explained. “The spider falls into this line of inquiry. It’s something that hasn't been used before but has a lot of potential.”
As for how the dead spider necrobots could be utilized, the biotic mechanical grabbers were found to be quite hardy, lasting around 1,000 trials before starting to crumble. With the help of a little coating, Preston suspects they could be useful in pick-and-place tasks such as in the assembly of microelectronics.
They could also be deployed to capture insects in nature, said lead author and Rice University Engineering PhD student Faye Yap, since the necrobots would be well-camouflaged.
Who knows, dead-spider mechanical-grabbing necrobots could soon be coming to a park near you...
[H/T: Science Alert]