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Iowa State Engineers Develop Micro-Tentacles So Tiny Robots Can Handle Delicate Objects

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A micro-tentacle spirals around an ant.

Researchers at Iowa State University have developed spiraling micro-robotic tentacles to enable robots to handle delicate objects.

Credit: Jaeyoun Kim/Iowa State University

Iowa State University researchers have developed spiraling microrobotic tentacles only eight millimeters long and less than 1/100th of an inch wide, which they say will enable robots to handle delicate objects.

The microtubes are made from PDMS, a transparent elastomer that can be a liquid or a soft, rubbery solid, which the researchers have been working with for about 10 years.

The researchers created the tentacles by sealing one end of the tube and pumping air in and out. The air pressure and the microtube's asymmetrical wall thickness created a circular bend. The researchers then added a small lump of PDMS to the base of the tube to amplify the bend and create a two-turn spiraling, coiling action.

Spiraling tentacles are widely utilized in nature, and "there have been continuous soft-robotic efforts to mimic them...but the life-like, multi-turn spiraling motion has been reproduced only by centimeter-scale tentacles so far," the researchers say.

In order for the new system to work, the researchers had to develop new production techniques to create the microtubes. They also had to find a way to peel the microtubes off a production template, and to use computer modeling to find a way to create more coiling.

From Iowa State University News Service
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