Incredible tiny tentacles for microrobots


This is microrobotic tentacle grabbing an ant. Iowa State University engineers developed the spiraling microrobotic pneumatic tentacles, just 8 millimeters long and less than a hundredth of an inch wide, as a delicate gripper for tiny medical robots that could manipulate tissue or even blood vessels inside our bodies.

From Iowa State University:

(The tentacles are) made from PDMS, a transparent elastomer that can be a liquid or a soft, rubbery solid. Kim, whose research focus is micro-electro-mechanical systems, has worked with the material for about a decade and has patented a process for making thin wires from it.

(The paper in Scientific Reports) also describes how the researchers sealed one end of the tube and pumped air in and out. The air pressure and the microtube's asymmetrical wall thickness created a circular bend. They further describe how they added a small lump of PDMS to the base of the tube to amplify the bend and create a two-turn spiraling, coiling action.

And that's just what the engineers wanted:

"Spiraling tentacles are widely utilized in nature for grabbing and squeezing objects," the engineers wrote in the paper.

"Iowa State engineers develop micro-tentacles so tiny robots can handle delicate objects"