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

any direction.

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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

tentacle as part of the Octopus

Project. The group is scheduled to deliver a real working model early next


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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.

via PhysOrg

Credit: Advanced Materials