Don’t Look Now, But Researchers Are Turning Dead Spiders Into Robots

Researchers in the field of robotics just don’t know when to stop, do they?

There’s no doubt that the robots are coming. They may even be calling balls and strikes in the not-too-distant future. Still have some kinks to work out. Recently, an angry chess-playing Russian robot broke a child’s finger.

Undeterred, the folks at Rice University have been working on a new area of robotics that they’ve dubbed “necrorobotics.”

Alarm bells just went off for anyone with a cursory understanding of Latin, because “necro-” means dead, while -robotics, means robotics. Rice University is turning dead things into robots. Their specimen of choice? Spiders.

“This area of soft robotics is a lot of fun because we get to use previously untapped types of actuation and materials,” engineer Daniel Preston said in a press release. “The spider falls into this line of inquiry. It’s something that hasn’t been used before but has a lot of potential.”

Soft robotics involves working with robots that aren’t made from rigid materials like metal. Y’know, like spiders.

Preston mentioned that it just so happens that dead spiders are perfectly built to function as robotic grabbers. Below, you can see a demonstration of a dead spider being used to grab things, including other spiders (they must have a ton of spiders sitting around that laboratory).

It’s pretty amazing how it works — even if it is a little creepy — and it’s impressive that the team of engineers and grad students at Rice got it to work right off the bat.

Why were spiders the perfect specimen for this? According to Preston, it’s because they don’t have opposing muscles the way humans and other mammals do. Biceps and triceps are an example of a pair of opposing muscles.

This technology is sure to go beyond using dead spiders to pick up small electrical components, other spiders, and what looks to be a piece of sponge, but hopefully they don’t go overboard. I seem to recall a Mary Shelley novel and a Boris Karloff movie that warn against the dangers of necrorobotics.

Written by Matt Reigle

Matt is a University of Central Florida graduate and a long-suffering Philadelphia Flyers fan living in Orlando, Florida. He can usually be heard playing guitar, shoe-horning obscure quotes from The Simpsons into conversations, or giving dissertations to captive audiences on why Iron Maiden is the greatest band of all time.

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