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Researchers have used the legs of dead spiders as mechanical grippers in a terrifying experiment.
Mechanical engineers at Rice University are developing “necrobots” based on existing research using non-conventional materials like hydrogels and elastomers that can access chemicals or light – in this example using a spider they killed and used.
“This area of soft robotics is a lot of fun because we get to use previously unused types of actuations and materials,” said Daniel Preston of Rice University’s George R. Brown School of Engineering.
“The spider falls into this line of inquiry. It’s something that hasn’t been used before but has great potential.”
Spiders use hydraulics to move their limbs, not muscles. A chamber near their head contracts to send blood to the limbs, and when it expands the legs expand and protrude.
“We were carrying stuff to the lab and we saw a twisting spider on the side of the hallway,” said Rice graduate student Faye Yap. “We were really curious why spiders turn around after they die.”
This is because spiders do not have opposing muscle pairs, like the biceps and triceps in humans, but rather flexor muscles that curl and extend. This is why spiders twist when they die – because they have lost the ability to actively exert pressure on their bodies.
The researchers tapped into the prosoma chamber with a needle and superglue – which controls the legs. The other end of the needle is attached to a syringe that delivers air to the legs.
This lets researchers control the legs for a variety of projects. Preston said, “There are a lot of pick-and-place tasks that we can look at, repetitive tasks like sorting or moving objects on these tiny scales, and maybe even things like assembly of microelectronics. ” Due to its inherent camouflage it can also be used to capture small insects.
“The spiders themselves are biodegradable,” Mr Preston said. “So we’re not introducing a huge waste stream, which can be a problem with more traditional components.”
The research is published in an open-access study advanced science,
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