Instead of designing your own robots, why not use what nature has already created? Engineers at Rice University have used this logic in their research effort, resulting in the successful transformation of dead spiders into robotic grasping claws. As researchers give new fields of study, necrorobics could lead to the development of affordable, efficient and biodegradable robots that could replace existing ones.
Then why spiders? Unlike humans, who move their limbs with two opposing muscles, such as the biceps and triceps, spiders only have one flexor muscle on each leg that pulls the leg inward.
A hydraulic system counters this, enabling the spider to operate each limb separately. A chamber in the prosoma, located in the center of the spider's body, forces fluid to open its leg. Meanwhile, spiders always curl up when they die, as there is no pressure in the system to resist the flexor muscles of the legs.
It can be effectively used by spider scientists as an ARCADE CLAW MACHINE.
The Rice University team was able to artificially activate this hydraulic mechanism by inserting a needle into a dead spider's prosoma and forcing air in and out to expand and close the spider's legs like an arcade claw machine.
According to Daniel Preston of Rice's George R. Brown School of Engineering, "After the spider dies, it's the right architecture for small-sized, organically derived scavengers."
Spiders can lift more than 130% of their own weight and perform 1000 cycles of opening and closing before their joints fail.
FOR CENTURIES PEOPLE HAVE USED DEAD ANIMALS AS TOOLS.
In the journal Advanced Science, the Rice University team, led by graduate student Faye Yap, published a paper summarizing their research.
They mention in the publication that humans have a long history of reusing the remains of deceased organisms for new purposes, from animal hides used as clothing to arrowheads and bones turned into tools. In this case, turning a dead spider into a robot gripper is not as strange as it may seem.
The researchers also point out that robotic system designers commonly use cues from the natural world, such as ripples in fish tails or the sticky surface of lizards' feet.
But why would they copy when they could steal, they argued? Especially considering that Mother Nature has made efforts to develop efficient mechanisms for millions of years.
According to the authors, the concept of necrobotics proposed in this study “takes advantage of unique designs made by nature that may be difficult or even impossible to mechanically recreate.”
Gizmodo says the group's decision to order their test subjects from a biological supply company has caused some problems for their arachnophobic co-workers.
According to Preston, one of the front desk staff at Rice “actually doesn't like spiders. As a result, when we got a delivery that we needed to use for the project, we had to call the front desk and kind of alert them.”
Preston added that while the work is currently only a proof of concept, it could have many applications in the future.
“There are a lot of pick-and-place jobs that we can explore, repetitive tasks like sorting or moving materials at these small scales, and maybe even microelectronics assembly,” he said in a press release.
Yap suggested that since a spider hunter is "naturally in disguise," it could also be used to collect animal specimens in the wild.