Dead Spiders Reanimated in Texas Lab to Become 'Necrobotic Grabbers'

A university in Texas has successfully turned dead spiders into necrobotic grippers capable of lifting items weighing more than 130% their own body weight.

Footage shared by Rice University shows researchers using spider carcasses to pick up and place small items.

Rice University graduate student Faye Yap said: “They [spiders] only have flexor muscles, which allow their legs to curl in, and they extend them outward by hydraulic pressure.”

Yap and Assistant Professor Daniel Preston found that by injecting air into a deceased spider they could replicate the function of this pressure, extending the spider’s legs outwards.

Preston said the research could be applied to “repetitive tasks like sorting or moving objects around at these small scales, and maybe even things like assembly of microelectronics.”

“Also, the spiders themselves are biodegradable,” Preston added. “So we’re not introducing a big waste stream, which can be a problem with more traditional components.”

The research was carried out at the George R. Brown School of Engineering at Rice University, which specialises in soft robotic systems using nontraditional materials. Preston and Yap have named their novel research into the physiology of spiders “necrobotics”. Credit: Brandon Martin/Rice University via Storyful

Video transcript


DANIEL PRESTON: The unique thing about spiders is that they actually don't have antagonistic muscle pairs. So in a human, we have our biceps and our triceps. They work to flex and then extend the elbow joint. But when you think about spiders, they have flexor muscles that will bring their joints and appendages in towards the body. But they don't have extenders and instead they do that with hydraulic pressure that they generate inside of the main cavity or chamber of their body.

And so because of that, when they die, that's why you see spiders curled up. But at the same time, that means that we can use hydraulic pressure when we use the spider as the material for our gripper to take advantage of that and extend all of its legs or joints.

We're referring to these as nerobotic grippers. We're calling it necrobotics because we're using these basically dead objects, dead spiders in this case.

FAYE YAP: We took the spider, we placed the needle in it not knowing what was going to happen. We had like an estimate of where we wanted to place the needle. And when we did it, it worked the first time, right off the bat actually. And that was really like-- I don't even know how to describe it. That moment when you see it move.

DANIEL PRESTON: So one of the applications we could see this being used for is micro manipulation and that could include things like microelectronic devices. We're excited about it because it also offers the potential to reduce waste streams. So these grippers, as you might guess, are made from these biotic materials that are compostable or biodegradable.

FAYE YAP: Before I started my PhD, my mom actually told me, she was like, you're probably going to work with something like hydraulic related. And I was like, OK, mom. And then this is actually somewhat related to hydraulics. So when I showed her the project, she was just like, this is amazing.

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