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Harvard scientists build a robot gripper with spaghetti-like tentacles

A tentacle robot can gently grasp fragile objects by entangling and ensnaring them – just as a jellyfish would.

Drawing inspiration from nature or, more specifically, from a jellyfish collecting stunned prey, a Harvard team of engineers developed a robotic gripper equipped with thin, soft tentacles to handle irregularly shaped or fragile objects.

A collection of pneumatic rubber tentacles – or filaments – are weak individually, but together they can grasp and securely hold heavy or oddly shaped items. They wrap around the objects by way of simple inflation without sensing, planning, or feedback control.

Researchers took advantage of the “natural compliance of soft robotics” and enhanced it, Kaitlyn Becker, first author of the paper, said in a statement from Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering.

“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,” Becker said.

According to researchers, the gripper could potentially have a range of real-world applications, including marine biology, agriculture, medicines, and warehouse logistics.

“This approach expands the range of what’s possible to pick up with robotic grippers,” Robert Wood, corresponding co-author of the study, said.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal. It adds to a body of robotics research taking cues from the animal kingdom. Recent examples include “cyborg” cockroaches or a “necrobotic” gripper made from a carcass of a dead spider.

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