New research field, necrobotics uses spider corpses to create robots

Despite the outrage caused by such news, how willingly are we to give up on our privileges and comforts after realizing many of them come at the cost of other beings' suffering?

Lidia Zuin
4 min readApr 12, 2023

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Maybe you already heard about this field in robotics called soft robotics, which aims to design robots with an anatomy similar to living beings, mostly animals. Unlike regular robots, which are made of rigid parts, soft robotics use other materials that are more adaptable and flexible, similar to biological components like muscles and tendons, for example.

This approach of creating new technologies after nature’s design is known as biomimetic and it has a long history if we consider that even planes are designed after birds’ bodies. The news is that now scientists are literally using the biological bodies of some animals to perform robotic tasks or even to create new “beings”, like DNA-based nanorobots.

Using corpses is however a much more recent strategy and it was named necrobotics on the last July, when researchers from Rice University published a paper about an experiment they performed with dead spiders. By applying pressurized air in the dead animal’s legs, the scientists were able to recreate the movements of robotic pincers.

With muscles that only work for retraction, spider legs stretch through a hydraulic mechanism of blood chambers that expand and contract according to the animals’ movement. However, when the spider dies, these valves lose their pressure — that’s why spiders have their legs constricted when they are dead.

By stimulating this mechanism in the spider corpse, these scientists were able to use the bodies to perform small-scale collecting and placing tasks, as well as lifting other spiders — bare in mind that, when alive, spiders can lift objects that are as heavy as 130% of their own weight. Still, this is a very hard process and since they are dealing with biological components (therefore biodegradable), only an average of 1,000 cycles of activity were registered before the system deteriorated. That is a very low average if you consider the demands of an actual production line.

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Lidia Zuin

Brazilian journalist, MA in Semiotics and PhD in Visual Arts. Researcher and essayist. Technical and science fiction writer.