Engineers have created a robot with many tentacles like an octopus
In a new *PNAS study, a team of researchers, including Assistant Professor Kaitlyn Becker, introduce the notion of entanglement grasping in robots by using filament-like soft actuators.
“By taking advantage of the natural compliance of soft robotics and enhancing it with a compliant structure, we designed a gripper that is greater than the sum of its parts and a grasping strategy that can adapt to a range of complex objects with minimal planning and perception,” says Becker.
The grip’s strength and ability to adapt is tied to its ability to weave around prey, the scientists explain. Each “thread” is a hollow rubber tube about 30 cm long. One side of such a hose is thicker than the other, so under pressure it begins to curl like straightened hair in the rain.
Individually, each such “thread” is very weak. But when the curls bind and tangle with each other and with the object, the grip strength increases, the engineers say. At the same time, weak individual contacts “gently” affect the object and cannot damage even the most fragile object. To release the prey, simply remove the pressure.
Most modern robotic grippers rely on built-in sensors, complex feedback loops, or advanced machine learning algorithms, combined with operator skill to grip fragile or irregularly shaped objects. These are expensive devices that are difficult to manage. The technologies for creating and managing “rubber tubes” are much simpler.
Engineers tested the operation of their device in a series of experiments. The tentacles successfully lifted a variety of objects from houseplants to fragile toys. The authors of the development believe that it will be useful in various fields. For example, it can be used to move soft fruits and vegetables, delicate fabrics during an operation, or fragile dishes in a warehouse.
*PNAS – Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the leading American journal for the publication of original scientific research in various fields, mainly in biology and medicine, but also in physics and social sciences. Official organ of the US National Academy of Sciences.