November 30, 2022 at 12:03 am

Robot with Spaghetti-Like Tentacles Is Surprisingly Strong and Gentle

by Ashley Dreiling

In the ongoing race to produce the most lifelike robots, researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) present a new soft-grabbing robot complete with… tentacles.

The work, published in PNAS, is very different from traditional robotic grippers that usually require complicated forward planning and feedback loops. Instead, the SEAS team took a cue from nature and created 12 soft tentacles that wrap around and entangled objects, like a jellyfish captures its prey.

They are called fluidically actuated slender hollow elastomeric filaments, deceptively complicated for units that function using simple inflation and pneumatics. The tentacles, made of hollow tubes, are about a foot long with eight of them positioned on a 1.9-inch diameter circle. The other four are arranged on a .98-inch diameter concentric circle.

“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,” said Kaitlyn Becker, a former graduate student and postdoctoral fellow at SEAS and first author of the study, in a statement.

Because the collection of tubes is stronger than a single tentacle, the mechanism can be both strong and gentle. Multiple tubes allow it to lift an object, but because the individual tubes are weak (and not all 12 are used for every grasp), it won’t damage the surface of the object. The SEAS team calls this process active collective entanglement. Another scary name for a careful claw with loads of potential.

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