Scientists have turned dead spiders into robots.
Social media users and several websites have circulated news that scientists turned dead spiders into robots.
Misbar investigated the circulating claim and found it to be a commotion. Although a research experiment using dead spider joints as grippers was effective, the spiders have not yet been fully automated.
A New Field of “Necrobotics”
Misbar’s team found that a team of scientists from Rice University had successfully experimented with using the joints of dead spiders as grippers. However, the experiment is still new and has not reached the stage of creating fully functioning robots.
The team of scientists found that spiders “only have flexor muscles, which allow their legs to curl in, and they extend them outward by hydraulic pressure. When they die, they lose the ability to actively pressurize their bodies. That’s why they curl up.”
The experiment uses a syringe to inject the body of the dead spider with a small and precise amount of air to move the joints.
The process is yet to reach a fully automated stage where the body of the dead spider would automatically function and grip objects.
The spider's body eventually showed some cracks and signs of wariness, which the researchers concluded was likely due to dehydration, and this was noted in the scientific paper that the team of scientists published in the journal Advanced Science. According to the researchers, in the future, the use of wax or polymeric coating may maintain joint flexibility and prevent dehydration.
The Difference Between Hard, Soft, and Necro Robotics
According to Analytics Insights, hard robotics refers to systems made of hard materials, whereas soft robotics are made of flexible and stretchable materials. Necrobotics is a field of engineering that uses biotic material, in this case, dead material, as robotic components.
The question of ethics is already being discussed in relation to Necrobotics. In an essay published by The Robot Report, Florian Pestoni raises concerns about the potential misuses of this new science. Pestoni wonders about the possibility of using the same technique with mammals and with living creatures, which he describes as “dystopian.”
Are Dead Spiders Used as Robots Now?
As previously stated, the experiment is still in its early stages and has not been further developed. In their published paper, the scientists mention their plans to expand their research: “Our work here presents the first step in this new avenue of research, which we expect will extend to locomotion of necrobots by independently actuating each leg of the spider, as well as the use of biotic materials derived from other creatures with similar hydraulic characteristics.”
Furthermore, the terminology used in the circulating claim is different from that used by the scientists who conducted the experiment. In a video shared by Rice University on YouTube, the title reads: “Lab manipulates deceased spiders’ legs with a puff of air to serve as grabbers.” The findings shared on the Rice University website mention “Rice University mechanical engineers are showing how to repurpose deceased spiders as mechanical grippers.”
Some other websites used a more reserved and accurate language to explain that the experiment uses dead spiders as mechanical or claw-like grippers.
CNN chose an equally reserved language, but a more humorous tone.
The claim that the scientists turned dead spiders into robots insinuates that that the experiment has reached a final stage and that the corpses of dead spiders are fully functioning robots.
Based on these findings, Misbar confirms that the circulating claim is based on a commotion.