Spiders, zombies, and robots: pick any of the three, and you've got yourself the makings of a pretty decent horror flick. Combine them together, and you've got a real life experiment out of Rice's George R. Brown School of Engineering.
According to a university press release, engineering students have created necrobotic (zombie robot) spiders from spider corpses.
Apparently, the idea was to study the mechanism that allows a spider to lift objects that outweigh them, at least that's how they justify the abomination. In reading the interviews, it sounds more like one of those "I wonder if we can?" moments that almost never have a "I wonder if we should?" follow up discussion.
Lead author Faye yap says,
"We were moving stuff around in the lab and we noticed a curled-up spider at the edge of the hallway. We were really curious as to why spiders curl up after they die."
Spiders don't have antagonistic muscle pairs like biceps and triceps in humans. They only have flexor muscles, which curl their legs inward, but prosoma, tiny chambers in the spider's legs, act like hydraulics, pressurizing the legs outward. When they die, they lose the ability to actively pressurize their body and curl up.
When that happens, normal people clap their hands and say, "good riddance," but not Yap and her engineering colleagues. Oh no, they inserted a needle into a dead spider's prosoma, attached it with super glue, and injected air, re-pressurizing the spiders and turning them into little toy gripper claws.
Assistant Professor Daniel Preston who supervised the team said,
"There are a lot of pick-and-place tasks we could look into, repetitive tasks like sorting or moving objects around at these small scales, and maybe even things like assembly of microelectronics."
Spiders are renewable and biodegradable after all; never mind the pounds of machinery in that video used to reanimate one.
Still, it seems fitting to imagine a future where an army of dead robotic spiders builds the technology that entangles us in the world wide web and slowly sucks our life away.
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