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‘Necrobotics’; Using Dead Creatures as Robots

Rice University researchers in Texas have ventured into a unique realm of
mechanical engineering, one that involves an unexpected protagonist:
deceased spiders. This emerging field, dubbed Necrobotics, delves into the
transformation of expired spiders into mechanical grippers through the
application of synthetically induced pressure. Unlike mammals, spiders
possess a distinct anatomical structure devoid of muscle tissue, relying
instead on a hydraulic mechanism to facilitate limb movement.

In life, spiders employ their internal blood pressure to extend their joints
and secure objects. As this pressure escalates, their limbs elongate,
countering the innate flexor muscles responsible for inward limb
contraction. This intricate mechanism became the focal point for the
researchers’ innovation. Daniel Preston, a co-author of the study, recounted
the genesis of their idea: “We were moving stuff around in the lab and we
noticed a curled-up spider at the edge of the hallway. We were really
curious as to why spiders curl up after they die.”
The study’s experimentation centered on wolf spiders, revealing that the
intricate anatomy of spiders lends itself remarkably well to the creation of
soft-robotic grippers. Faye Yap, the lead author of the study, elaborated,
highlighting a crucial distinction in spider musculature: “Spiders do not have
antagonistic muscle pairs, like biceps and triceps in humans. They only
have flexor muscles, which allow their legs to curl in. When they die, they
lose the ability to actively pressurize their bodies.” The researchers also
observed that spiders are equipped with an internal valve system that
grants them the ability to control each limb independently.
The study’s methodology involved delicately penetrating the prosoma
chamber with a needle and sealing it with a drop of adhesive. This needle’s
outer end was then linked to a handheld syringe capable of applying
controlled air pressure. Upon the application of pressure via the syringe,
the spider’s limbs were activated instantaneously, showcasing the potential
of this innovative approach.
The birth of Necrobotics represents an ingenious intersection of biology
and mechanical engineering, offering the prospect of soft-robotic devices
inspired by the biomechanics of spiders. This novel pursuit not only sheds
light on the intricate mechanisms governing arachnid movement but also
paves the way for new avenues of exploration within the realm of robotics.

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