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how grad student 'resurrects' dead spider necrobotics

See how grad student ‘resurrects’ dead spider creating a ‘zombie’ for gripping electronic components

University grad student Faye Yap resurrected the limbs of a dead spider, making it a gripping tool through air pumped into its limbs. As the story goes, the inspiration totally came unexpectedly.

Yap had been rearranging her things at the newly built Preston Innovation Lab at Rice University when she saw a curled-up dead spider. It piqued her interest, and she started researching why dead spiders end up that way. With internal hydraulics being the principle behind spiders’ movements, she believed she could supply the air needed and resurrect the lifeless limbs.

“Spiders do not have antagonistic muscle pairs, like biceps and triceps in humans,” she explained. “They only have flexor muscles, which allow their legs to curl in, and they extend them outward by hydraulic pressure. When they die, they lose the ability to actively pressurize their bodies. That’s why they curl up. We wanted to find a way to leverage this mechanism.”

It worked! Faye Yap and her colleagues are calling this area of research necrobotics – a combination of necromancy and robotics. They posit that they could use the dead spiders as grippers to pick and place delicate tiny electronic parts.

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Their research, published in the Advanced Science journal, is in line with the kind of work being done at the Preston Lab. Unlike other robotics labs where engineers use hard plastics, metals, and electronics, the researchers use delicate materials like hydrogels and elastomers. Typical gripping tools may not function properly with the things needed for their ‘soft robotics’ engineering.

While spiders have inspired several robotics innovations like designing pneumatics, joints, and muscles, Yap and her colleagues are the first to ‘resurrect’ a dead spider as a material for robotics.

Their design is effortless, requiring a needle injected into the spider cadaver’s prosoma and held together by a superglue. The design allegedly took an entirety of 10 minutes. A rig holds a syringe, and the needle’s other end is inserted into it.

Faye Yap dead spiders necrobotics
An illustration showing the design by which Rice University mechanical engineers turn deceased spiders into necrobotic grippers, able to grasp items when triggered by hydraulic pressure.

When they apply small pressure to the chamber, air is pumped into the needle, the legs open, and when depressurized, the legs close up. Preston has an issue with the zombie headlines that have popularised the research as it says that the spiders remain inanimate. Although, the researchers would all agree that it is a creepy sight to see for the first time.

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Onwuasoanya Obinna

A reader of books and stringer of words. Passionate about Science and Tech. When not writing or reading he is surfing the web and Tweeting.