Researchers at Iowa State University have developed tiny tentacles that can gently wrap around small objects to carefully manipulate them. The technology may find use in robotic surgery as well as reproductive medicine, but for now it has been demonstrated by lifting ants and grabbing fish eggs without hurting them.
The tentacles are made out of tubes of PDMS (polydimethylsiloxane), a silicon-based organic polymer used in the production of contact lenses. The tubes have a strategically positioned hump near the base and a capped end, which helps the tubes curl when air is pumped in and out. By regulating the air pressure within the tube, the curling of the device can be carefully controlled.
We’re hoping that the researchers will soon stop playing with ants and get to translating this technology into clinical practice.
From the study abstract in Scientific Reports:
We establish a new, direct peeling-based technique for building long and thin, highly deformable microtubes and a semi-analytical model for their shape-engineering. Using them in combination, we amplify the microtube’s pneumatically-driven bending into multi-turn inward spiraling. The resulting micro-tentacle exhibit spiraling with the final radius as small as ~185 μm and grabbing force of ~0.78 mN, rendering itself ideal for non-damaging manipulation of soft, fragile micro-objects.
Article in journal Scientific Reports: Microrobotic tentacles with spiral bending capability based on shape-engineered elastomeric microtubes…