The word is “necrobotics” — using science to reanimate corpses. It’s still necromancy. This one lab is taking advantage of the mechanics of spider limb movements to use their dead bodies as robot hands.
Unlike mammals, which move their limbs by extending and contracting opposing muscles, spiders move their legs via hydraulic pressure. More specifically, they have a “prosoma chamber” located near their head which sends blood into the legs as it contracts – this causes the legs to extend. When the pressure is released, the legs close back in.
You can see where this is going. All we have to do is apply a little pressure and the limbs will extend, so you can just slide a needle into the chamber and presto, you can make the dead spider dance like a puppet. One thing that surprises me is how easy it is, using just a hand-held syringe to pump up the limbs.
It’s a rather gimmicky approach, and I don’t believe for a moment that it will ever have any practical applications. You’d have to murder a lot of spiders, and it sounds like they’re only going to have limited utility. It’s the same reason we can’t use zombies as Amazon warehouse workers — sure, they’d be cheap, wouldn’t unionize, and you could work them nonstop, but after a few days to a week their arms would rot and fall off.
Jeff Bezos has probably already done the analysis.
Gimmicky for using a dead spider, but useful if one mechanically replicates the spider’s manipulation capabilities for small component assembly.
Why invent that which nature already invented?
Matt G says
Well, I don’t know about the rest of you mammals, but I don’t extend my muscles. I just relax them.
Repurposing the non-decomposing parts of animals isn’t exactly a new idea. Humans didn’t even invent it. In this case, I agree it’s not useful. Maybe you could manufacture miniature hydraulic robot arms along the same lines.
I wouldn’t be so quick to say this has no practical applications. Scientists and engineers (and others) come up with ideas from nature all the time that (ultimately) have practical application. Better, and more creative, minds regularly come up with ideas for “impossible” things.
ANB@5 Who knows? It seems extremely unlikely to me that turning dead spiders into robots is going to be a big win. That’s a hunch, not a prediction.
The idea may be useful. I agree that a lot of inventions are copied from nature (which often makes me wonder what IDists think “designers” add to the mix beyond trial and error). In this case, the general idea is known already. Whether there is something particularly useful about the implementation in spiders remains to be seen.
Does reanimation of the dead require IRB approval? Asking for a friend…
Raging Bee says
Whaddaya mean no practical applications? Who wouldn’t want a zombie-spider-leg backscratcher? Or a zombie-spider-leg micromassager? Where’s your entrepreneurial spirit?
Of course, I wasn’t suggesting that the spiders themselves would serve some utilitarian purpose, only that the engineering ideas that may spring from this may prove useful.
Akira MacKenzie says
YOU OF THE EARTH ARE IDIOTS!!!!
Great moments in cinema. If you can overlook the production values, the acting, and the uneven script, there is something brilliant about Plan 9. (Seriously, you can do a lot worse, and I love the rawness of this scene.)
Hmmm… Kind of reminds on of some plot elements in Kieth Laumer’s Retief’s War.
Maybe we can replace the hemolymph with a non-degrading or even desinfecting liquid? Chitin is rather stable and should hold for a long time. The problem is the retraction – spiders use muscles (flexors) for that and these will decay over time. Can we somehow modify the muscle tissue into a kind of elastic rubber?
Well, PZ, it looks like you and Randy Milholland read one another. ;)