The idea of a spider-robot sounds a little like fiction, perhaps even scary, but scientists at Rice University in Texas have turned this crazy idea into a real concept and implemented it. Let’s take a look at these robots and how they were created.
In collaboration with a mechanical engineer, Daniel Preston, Faye Yap - a PhD student - and her colleagues at Rice University, the team discovered a way to turn dead wolf spiders into robots by using their legs. They named this new type of robot necrobotics, which can be interpreted as the robotics of the dead. They say this area of research can be used to make many different discoveries, including creating biodegradable grippers for small objects.
Their research began in 2019 when Faye Yap found a dead spider curled up in the hallway. With this minor occurrence, she began to wonder why spiders always die with their legs in that position and whether it could be used as a robotic component. After delving into the quick facts, Yap and her colleagues discovered that spiders do not have the muscles for extension, and instead, they have a hydraulic pressure system that controls their limbs. This system is called a prosoma chamber or cephalothorax. It is meant to send the spider’s inner body fluid into its legs, allowing it to extend.
To make a gripper for the spiders, the team inserted a needle into the internal valves in their hydraulic chamber and created a seal around the tip of the needle using super glue. Squeezing a tiny puff of air through the syringe was enough to activate the spider’s legs, causing it to move in only a few milliseconds.
The dead spider can then, hypothetically, pick up more than 130 percent of its body weight. At first, the team made the dead-spider pick up a small ball to test the experiment. After that, they demonstrated the purpose of the dead spider robots to pick up delicate objects and electronics.
Because spiders extend their legs by exerting hydraulic pressure from their cephalothorax, after they die, their hydraulic system does not work anymore. However, the spider can still curl up as the flexor muscles in its legs go into rigor mortis, which is the third stage of death.
This way of using dead spiders for building a robot is very logical considering most man-made robots are complex and expensive. Spiders are both complex beings that can be studied in depth and be easily supplied. Because they are biodegradable, they can also be used as robot parts to cut waste in robotics. You can see the examples of them being used in both micro-manipulation, the technique of manipulating cells or tissues, and microelectronics, a branch of technology that deals with the miniaturization of technology.
However, there is a disadvantage of using dead spiders as robots; after two days, they start to tear apart. Scientists said that this issue can be related with the dehydration of the joints.
Even though this was a big issue, scientists worked on a special coating to overcome the mass decrease. They used beeswax to coat on wolf spiders and found out that the mass decrease in coated spiders is seventeen times less than that of the uncoated spiders.
With time, comes change. Technology is evolving and, in a way, it may seem funny that the horrific stories we used to scare each other with are now becoming the solutions to our problems. It is creepy and rather bewildering, but it shows how much we have improved in terms of technology. This development is very important for our world and it shows how much potential we have to make our world a better place.
"Lab Manipulates Deceased Spiders' Legs with a Puff of Air to Serve as Grabbers." Youtube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JOS6hMHIUM&t=2s.
"Scientists Are Turning Dead Spiders into 'Necrobots' and We Are so Creeped out." Sciencealert, www.sciencealert.com/necrobotics-the-creepy-field-of-science-that-is-using-dead-spiders-as-robots.
"Scientists Turned Dead Spiders into Robots." ScienceNews, www.sciencenews.org/article/dead-wolf-spiders-robots-necrobots.
"Scientists Use Dead Spiders as Claw Machines." Smithsonian Magazine, www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/scientists-use-dead-spiders-to-grip-objects-180980498/#:~:text=But%20researchers%20from%20Rice%20University,as%20robotic%20components%20%E2%80%9Cnecrobotics.%E2%80%9D.