Scientists create 'necrobotics' using dead spiders

Aisha Nozari

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Scientists create 'necrobotics' using dead spiders

Featured Image Credit: Preston Innovation Laboratory / Rice University

Hello, and welcome to your worst nightmare: dead spiders are now being used as ‘machines’ to pick up other objects.

Researchers from Rice University have turned dead wolf spiders into ‘necrobotics’, which is basically the use of living organisms (biotics) as robotic components.

Researchers hope that their work can be developed further and allow for more biotics to be used as biodegradable grippers to pick up tiny objects. Watch an explainer below:

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Reporting on the paper, published in Advanced Science, Smithsonian notes that research kicked off in 2019 when scientists noticed a dead spider curled up in their lab and started wondering why arachnids tend to always die in that position. 

Faye Yap, the paper’s lead author, discovered that spiders’ limbs are controlled by a hydraulic pressure system, but when they die the ability to pressurise their bodies is lost, hence the limb-curling. 

Yap explained in a statement: “Spiders do not have antagonistic muscle pairs, like biceps and triceps in humans.

“They only have flexor muscles, which allow their legs to curl in, and they extend them outward by hydraulic pressure. When they die, they lose the ability to actively pressurise their bodies. That’s why they curl up.”

Scientists wondered why spiders curl up when they die
Scientists wondered why spiders curl up when they die

She added: “At the time, we were thinking, ‘Oh, this is super interesting.’ We wanted to find a way to leverage this mechanism.” 

It was then that the researchers decided to try and create a biotic gripper, which they did by sticking a needle into valves in spiders’ hydraulic chambers.

The next step was to create a seal with superglue and attach a syringe to the other end before puffing air through the spiders’ legs, making them extend and retract. 

Impressively, the dead spiders were able to pick up over 130 percent of their own body weight and could tough out 1,000 open-close cycles before ceasing function.

Researchers have turned dead wolf spiders into ‘necrobotics’. Credit: Rice University
Researchers have turned dead wolf spiders into ‘necrobotics’. Credit: Rice University

This is because dehydration eventually made the spiders’ joints brittle. However, the loss of movement was slowed when a beeswax coating was applied. 

Co-author Daniel Preston said of the research: “Despite looking like it might have come back to life, we’re certain that it’s inanimate. It’s providing us with something really useful.”

In the future, the team said the necrobotic grippers could be used to help assemble microelectronics and also collect specimens like small insects without damaging them. 

Yap told Daily Beast: “From an engineering point of view, the spider’s mechanism of movement is very interesting.

“It definitely warrants taking a closer look at these creatures, and learning more from them.”

Topics: News, Science, Animals

Aisha Nozari
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