Engineers from Rice University have conducted an experiment to repurpose dead spiders into mechanical grippers.
The idea behind the research is to develop machinery that could blend in with natural environments.
“It happens to be the case that the spider, after it has deceased, is the perfect architecture for small scale, naturally derived grippers,” said Daniel Preston, from Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering.
An open-access study outlines the process in an area of research described as ‘necrobotics’.
Preston’s lab specialises in soft robotics using nontraditional materials, as opposed to hard plastics, metals and electronics.
“This area of soft robotics is a lot of fun because we get to use previously untapped types of actuation and materials,” Preston said.
“The spider falls into this line of inquiry.
“It’s something that hasn’t been used before but has a lot of potential.”
Unlike humans and other mammals, which use synchronising opposing muscles to control their limbs, spiders use hydraulics. A chamber near the spiders’ head contracts to deliver blood to the limbs and drives them to extend. When this pressure is eased, the legs contract.
The researchers claim that the spiders were able to lift more than 130% of their own body weight, and sometimes much more. The grippers were used to manipulate a circuit board, move items and lift another spider.
Future research could involve testing this concept with smaller spiders.
According to the team, internal valves in the spiders’ hydraulic chamber let them to control each leg on an individual basis.
Building the gripper involved entering the prosoma chamber with a needle and attaching it with superglue. The other end of the needle was connected to one of the lab’s test rigs or a handheld syringe, which delivered a minute amount of air to activate the legs.
The university and a NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Opportunity award supported the research.