If you think spiders are scary when they’re alive, wait until you see what they can do when they’re dead. A team of engineers from Rice University in Texas has succeeded in reanimating dead spiders into mechanical claws.
It’s true. Proving that we have strayed from the light of God for good, the team published a study of their Frankensteinian experience in Advanced sciences on July 26, during which they were able to control the legs of a dead spider with puffs of air. The authors described the creation as “necrobotic” and believe it could be used for a variety of purposes, including catching insects and even assembling microelectronics.
“Previous research has focused on bioinspired systems, where researchers look to nature for inspiration and mimic the physical traits of living organisms in engineered systems,” said Faye Yap, mechanical engineer at Rice. and lead author of the article, to the Daily Beast in an email. She later added, “Necrobotics, on the other hand, uses biotic materials, which are non-living materials derived from once-living organisms, such as the necrobotic claw from a spider in our work.”
The team was inspired to create their mind-blowing creation after one day coming across a dead spider moving objects around in their lab. After noticing how it coiled when it died, they discovered that the spider’s legs didn’t have muscles like humans, but instead depended on hydraulic pressure to move their limbs.
“We understand that a lot of people are put off by the sight of a spider, but from an engineering perspective, the spider’s movement mechanism is very interesting,” Yap said. “It is certainly worth taking a closer look at these creatures and learning more about them.”
The team decided to see if they could actually control legs. The mechanism was quite simple: Yap inserted a syringe into the internal hydraulic chamber of a dead wolf spider and added superglue to hold it in place. Then she added a small amount of air and the spider’s legs opened instantly. So ! You have the most cursed input tool in the world.
While crawling, Necrobotic Catchers were very good at picking up items. The wolf spiders used in the experiment are able to lift over 130% of their own body weight, which means the zombified claws were able to grab objects much heavier than themselves.
The team also found that their new tool was also surprisingly durable. One spider was even able to withstand 1,000 open-close cycles before showing signs of wear. But Faye said they “eventually plan to incorporate thin polymer coating materials to extend the life of the necrobotic forceps.”
Daniel Preston, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Rice and co-author of the paper, told The Daily Beast that while the experiment raised some eyebrows, the general public “was supportive”.
“[The] the typical reaction is a brief period of surprise, then an ‘a-ha’ moment where the underlying mechanism and technical contributions of our work become apparent,” Preston said. “We hope this research will spark new ideas about how we can source and use biotic materials in a respectful and sustainable way for robotic applications.”
Preston added that the team eventually hopes to test the concept on smaller spiders, which can carry an even heavier load relative to their body weight and mass. Spider claws could also be used to catch other scary critters.
“Because the necrobotic claw has inherent compliance and camouflage capabilities, we are considering deploying it in scientific fieldwork,” Faye said. “For example, to capture and collect small insects and other living specimens without damaging them.”
Listen, this is undoubtedly chilling and pulled straight from the depths of our nightmares. But necrobots have many useful applications. If you step back from the horror factor, it’s pretty cool in a luscious sci-fi way. Let’s just hope they stick to the spiders, though…and not anything bigger.