Welcome to the era of the ‘necrobots’. Yes, just as they read it. Necrorobots. Machines created from dead animals. Or lifeless bodies converted into mechanical devices. Whatever the starting point, the achievement is next. A team of mechanical engineers from Rice University in the United States has managed to turn dead spiders into mechanical tweezers: instruments with enough strength to lift the equivalent of 130% of the body weight of the arachnid itself and with enough delicacy so as not to damage the manipulated objects at all.
The story behind this achievement, like all good science stories, begins with a moment of genuine curiosity. A good day, the mechanical engineer Make Faye it was found a dead spider on the lab floor and, after observing it carefully, he began to think if (and how) he could turn that body into a robot. From that question came a curious experimental research work that ended up involving a team of top-level researchers and whose results were published this week in the journal ‘Advanced Science’.
The first step, explain the scientists responsible for this achievement, was to investigate the anatomy of the animal. It turns out that the spiders they do not have pairs of antagonistic muscles, like the biceps and triceps in humans. “Only have flexor muscleswhich allow your legs to curl around, and extend them outward by pure hydraulic pressure“, relate the mechanical engineers in their study.
Having figured out the mechanism that allows spiders to move, scientists wondered if they could reproduce this movement ‘post mortem’. To do this, they devised a system as simple and as brilliant as inserting a needle into an inert leg, holding it with glue and inserting small amounts of air in the limbs of the animal. And that’s when the ‘miracle’ happened. The corpse kicked the bucket again. But in another sense.
Laboratory tests showed that the ‘arachnid necrobots‘ were able to open and close their legs hundreds of times in a row. And of grab much heavier objects than the animal itself, lifting them delicately, moving them and releasing them without damaging an iota of their structure. These necrobots managed manipulate an electrical circuit boardmove objects and even lift another spider.
Surprisingly, the only ‘but’ that could be found before this invention was that from the thousandth movement, the legs of the spider seemed to suffer some wear. “It could be related to a problem of joint dehydration. Nothing that cannot be solved with polymer coatings”, explain the scientists in charge of this curious experiment.
You may be wondering if, beyond the anecdote of the necrobots, these types of inventions have any kind of practical use. “This instrument could be used to many repetitive and small-scale tasksincluding for microelectronics packaging,” the researchers explain. “Furthermore, spiders are biodegradable!“, add the experts in the curious presentation of their contraption.