While robots have long been invaluable when it comes to doing all sorts of heavy lifting, they lack a gentle touch. Hefting around auto parts is easy enough, but transporting eggs or glassware poses a significant challenge.
Scientists have now, however, made a flexible plastic robot tentacle that can, among other dexterities, pick flowers without crushing them, the latest of several robot appendages made of softer materials and able to accomplish delicate tasks.
The researchers control the tentacle by pumping air through three separate channels, giving it a wide range of motion and letting it reconfigure to grasp a variety of objects without being limited by the shape of its grip. The parts for the bot—mostly elastomer tubing—cost less than $10, far cheaper than the complex components of many far less flexible robotic hands.
What’s the News: Nature invented the wheel a good long time before we did: just look at the crazy antics of the mother-of-pearl moth caterpillar, which, when attacked, springs into an airborne coil in less than 60 milliseconds, spinning and twisting in the air like a snake from a can. Now robotics researchers have build a caterpillar robot that mimics that behavior, providing insight into how caterpillars manage it and suggesting new uses for some types of robots.