‘Necrobotics’: Spider Corpses Make Terrific Claw Machine Grabbers

‘Necrobotics’: Spider Corpses Make Terrific Claw Machine Grabbers
Image: iStock

Researchers at Rice University have created “necrobotic” spiders from their carcases. Yes. Rice University is using the dead remains of spiders to create tiny claw machines.

“Spiders are amazing. They’re useful even when they’re dead,” the Rice University website reads.

The researchers have repurposed dead spiders as “mechanical grippers”, perfect for blending into natural environments to pick up objects, such as other insects that outweigh them.

“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 from Rice University’s George R. Brown School of Engineering.

“This area of soft robotics is a lot of fun because we get to use previously untapped types of actuation and materials.

“The spider falls into this line of inquiry. It’s something that hasn’t been used before but has a lot of potential.”

Fun fact that plays into this research: spiders use hydraulics to move their limbs, whereas other animals synchronise opposing muscles to move about. They don’t have any muscle pairs, only flexor muscles.

Blood is pumped through spider limbs to force them to extend from a chamber near their heads. When the pressure isn’t there, the legs contract. That explains why they move about so robotically, and also why they curl up when they die.

The specific spiders being used are wolf spiders, capable of lifting more than 130 per cent of their own body weight.

To get the spiders to extend and contract on command, the researchers inserted a needle into the hydraulic “prosoma” chamber with superglue so the needle stuck. Air was pumped through a syringe into the hydraulic chamber, which extended and contracted the limbs on command.

necrobotic spiders
Image: Preston Innovation Laboratory, Brandon Martin, Rice University

In testing, researchers had the spider carcase manipulate a circuit board, lift another spider and move objects about. After the first 1,000 cycles, some wear and tear was noticed, which researchers chalked up as dehydration in the joints.

Future research will likely include smaller spiders, and useful applications of this could include small, delicate grabbing operations, like in electronics or in moving tiny objects. The carcases are also inherently camouflaged, so they could be useful in capturing small insects.

Also, as if I need to say it, the spiders are biodegradable. It’s also another great example of soft robotics and it’s exciting to see where it’ll go.

I can only hope for my corpse to be treated as practically as the carcases of these spiders. When I die, convert my whole body into a claw machine.

You can read the research about necrobotic spiders in Advanced Science.