There are many designs for robotic hands,
grippers, and even tentacles.
But most are made from rigid materials, and as such, it's hard to make them
grip things gently. Most have had to incorporate
soft materials into the design — but dexterity is still a challenge.
In a paper in Advanced Materials, a team from Harvard's
Whitesides Research Group outlines a way to build a robot tentacle out of soft
materials, powered by compressed air. Air-powered robots have appeared before,
but in this case they wanted to get a tentacle that could move — and grip –- in
The mechanism is actually pretty simple: the tentacle has
two layers. The inner layer is where the basic structure is, and the outer
layer has chambers that can be filled with air. Filling a chamber on one side
with air makes a tentacle bend away from that side and curl up. Each chamber can be filled independently.
Since it's made of soft material, this tentacle won't crush what it holds — especially as the pressure in the air
chambers can be adjusted accordingly.
It isn't the only soft-bodied robot tentacle project. In
Europe, roboticists at the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Pisa have built a soft
Project. The group is scheduled to deliver a real working model early next
Meanwhile, the Harvard team has offered up several uses for
such a tentacle, even all by itself. The central part could be filled with
fiber optic cable and attached to a camera, similar to current laparoscopes, or
it could be fitted with a hollow tube and a hypodermic needle, delivering
The video below shows an
early prototype, which gives an idea of how it works.
Credit: Advanced Materials