Spider robots are things you’d probably only expect to encounter in a sci-fi video game, movie, or novel, and truth be told, some of the concepts that form the basis for these “spider robots” can be downright freaky.
But often, life can be stranger than fiction, as evidenced by a new project where scientists have managed to create robotic arms out of dead spiders. Yeah, literal dead spiders as robots.
The project was conducted at Rice University in Texas, U.S., and saw the team successfully transform whole dead spiders into robotic tools with the ability to claw at and grip objects.
They’ve termed this new branch of robotics (taking previously-alive creatures and turning them into robots) “necrobotics”, and are adamant that deeper research into such a field could end up yielding more cost-effective and more sustainable alternatives to current robotic solutions.
Just watch the video below to see what exactly what they’ve managed to accomplish:
As for why spiders work so well in this regard, it’s all to do with their physiologies.
As opposed to other creatures (like humans and other mammals) that use antagonistic muscles to operate their limbs, spiders only make use of a single flexor muscle in each leg to draw it inward.
And in the center of each spider’s body lies a chamber that pushes out fluid to these flexors, which are controlled by individual valves in the legs that allows the spider to control its individual limbs.
IMAGE: Rice University
At the end of the day, this is also the reason why spiders end up curling up when they die: There is no pressure left in their bodies to oppose each leg’s flexor muscles – much like how a hydraulic system operates.
The team and Rice University, however, ended up finding that dead spiders could still be manipulated to open and close their legs by manipulating this system. The method involved sticking a needle into the cephalothorax (the fused head and thorax of the spider), and pushing air in and out, which made the legs open and close like a claw mechanism (think claw machines at fun fairs).
IMAGE: Rice University
Naturally inspired robots.
The team from the university headed up graduate student Faye Yap explained in its paper published in the journal Advanced Science that this was only another instance of humans taking the remains of dead organisms and repurposing them.
Team leader Faye Yap preparing a necrobot spider. IMAGE: Rice University
For example, hides and the skin of many species have been used for clothing or to create materials such as leather, while bones have been made into weapons and arrowheads. As it turns out, the transformation of dead spiders into claw robots is only an evolutionary following such practices, said the team, who also noted that robotics innovators also tend to find inspiration for designs by looking at nature – like the way a fish swims, or how birds beat their wings.
“The concept of necrobotics proposed in this work takes advantage of unique designs created by nature that can be complicated or even impossible to replicate artificially,” the team said.
Add to this the fact that a spider’s joints can go through 1,000 open and close cycles before degrading, plus its ability to lift over 130 percent of its body weight, and it all makes quite a bit of sense.
IMAGE: Rice University
“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.
Right now, the dead-spider-claw-robot is wholly a proof-of-concept, although Preston is enthusiastic about the prospects for such research.
“There are a lot of pick-and-place tasks we could look into, repetitive tasks like sorting or moving objects around at these small scales, and maybe even things like assembly of microelectronics,” he said.
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Cover image sourced from Rice University.
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