Robot Tentacle Can Lift a Flower Without Crushing It
The emerging field of soft robotics aims to create systems that are more perceptive and better suited to a diverse physical world around them. This requires manipulators that are more like biological analogs to the human or animal appendage—things that can sense what kind of object they are dealing with and adjust the force of their grip accordingly. This kind of technology will go a long way toward integrating robots into a world populated by a wide variety of biological beings and material objects.
To that end, the Harvard team has developed a single plastic, flexible tentacle filled with several pneumatic channels. These channels can be filled with varying degrees of air pressure that alter the shape of the manipulator. These channels—each independent of the others—not only allow the tentacle to curl in all three dimensions (tentacle manipulators with hard joints can only bend in certain directions) but also enable it to snake around an object, grasp it, and apply just the right amount of force to lift it, whether it’s a coffee mug, a crescent wrench, or a delicate dandelion.