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article imageScientists say spider-leg technology could give us 'Spidey sense'

By Michael Thomas     Dec 10, 2014 in Technology
Korean scientists are studying the miraculous abilities of spider legs, and the findings could lead to the people of the future saying "My Spidey sense is tingling."
Spiders have a fairly remarkable "early warning" system built into their legs, Mashable reports. Connected directly to the spider's nervous systems are slit-shaped organs made up of the spider's hardy exoskeleton and flexible padding.
These organs are highly sensitive to vibrations and sound; spiders can pick up on these tiny movements to avoid danger.
So how does this connect to the real world? A study published Wednesday in the journal Nature shows how scientists built a mechanical reproduction of the aforementioned spider organs. These sensors record sound much, much better than a standard microphone.
To create them, the team laid 20-nanometer-thick layers of platinum over a viscoelastic polymer, then bent the platinum so that cracks opened up paths to the polymer below it.
Tests showed the sensor was able to pick up the words "go," "jump," "shoot" and "stop" in a 92-decibel environment, something a microphone couldn't clearly do in the same conditions. And it didn't stop there — tests showed the sensor could also identify every note of a simple violin tune and also accurately measured human heartbeats.
The reason this works so well is because of a "tiling" system. As explained to Mashable by Prof. Dr. Peter Fratzl of the Max Planck Institute of Colloids, imagine a layer of metal tiles glued to rubber. When the rubber stretches, the tiles remain stationary, which creates "cracks" in between each tile. This creates an amplification system that allows much more detailed recording.
This new material — known as a "nanoscale crack junction-based sensory system" — has a wide range of potential uses beyond the obvious application to recording technology. Because it's already bent, it could be configured into wearable technology that could take on speech recognition and measurement of blood pressure. It could sense tremors before earthquakes or just give us a plain old "Spidey Sense" just like Spider-Man has in Marvel Comics.
It will be at least a few years before these miraculous sensors are available to the public, however. The research team is hoping to find cheaper material than platinum and need to conduct long-term stability tests.
More about spider legs, spidey sense, Sensors
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