Dead spiders: Nature’s robot hands

This wasn’t a story you were expecting to read today, nor was it one I was expecting to write. Heck, judging from their interviews on the subject, it’s probably fair to say the team of mechanical engineers at Rice University weren’t expecting for their work to take them down this path, either.

And yet, here we all are, discussing dead spiders as “necrobotic grippers.”

Image Credits: Rice University

In what may well be a case of bio-inspired robotics gone too far, the researchers are exploring how the dead arachnids can double as a robotic gripper using hydraulic pressure.

Spiders use blood pressure to move their legs. When they die, their hearts stop beating, causing them to lose that hydraulic pressure. This is why they curl up into a ball when they die. Turns out pairing them with a syringe full of air makes for a handy off-the-shelf robotic gripper.

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

That potential includes microelectronics assembly, according to Preston. It’s honestly tough to imagine anyone selling dead wolf spiders at scale, but they’re surprisingly robust, going through around 1,000 open-close cycles before their joints start to break down. Though that could potentially be addressed by adding a polymeric coating to the biodegradable system.

Interestingly (not that the whole thing isn’t uniquely interesting), the smaller the spider, the more it’s able to lift proportionally to its own weight.

Image Credits: Rice University