Most robots use finger-like appendages to grab things, although they can also use mouth-like grippers to change things up. When you need robots to handle delicate objects, though, forceful claws, fingers, and grippers probably aren’t the ideal candidates. That’s why someone made these soft Microrobotic Tentacles.
Created by a team of engineers from Iowa State, the soft-robots can grab ahold of delicate objects with the gentlest of grips, allowing them to wrap around the body of an ant without harming it. More importantly, they were able to do it at minuscule levels, creating for gripper robots that can be used to handle very small and very delicate objects.
The Microrobotic Tentacles are made from microtubes that measure just 8mm long and a quarter of a millimeter in a diameter. Each one is fabricated from PDMS, a type of transparent elastomer that they’ve formed into a soft, rubbery solid structure. The big challenge for the team, though, was mimicking the action of spiraling tentacles in a tube as tiny as 8mm in length, prompting them to develop new ways to build the microtubes, as well as enable it to create the kind of coiling that resembles the tentacles found in nature.
According to Jaeyoun Kim, one of the engineers in the project, the properties of the Microbotic Tentacles make them ideal for medical applications. Since they are soft, small, and gentle, they can be used to grab onto delicate body parts like blood vessels during operations without causing damage.
You can learn more from the paper over at Nature.