Engineers Develop Micro-Tentacles for Tiny Robots

Posted on July 8, 2015

Robot micro-tentacle holding an ant

Iowa State engineers have developed micro-tentacles for tiny robots. These tentacles have spiral bending capability. They are so small they can be used to handle delicate objects like ants without hurting them. The image above shows a micro-tentacle holding an ant.

To develop the tentacles Jaeyoun (Jay) Kim and his team made the tentacles from PDMS, a transparent elastomer that can be a liquid or a soft, rubbery solid. The tentacles are fabricated microtubes about 8 millimeters long and less than a hundredth of an inch wide. The researchers say the microrobotic tentacles can’t damage tissues or even blood vessels.

Kim has been working with PDMS for about a decade and patented a process for making thin wires out of it. He says in a statement, "Most robots use two fingers and to pick things up they have to squeeze. But these tentacles wrap around very gently." Kim also says the tentacle is S-cubed, meaning "soft, safe and small."

A research paper on the micro-tentacles was published here in the journal, Scientific Reports. The research paper also contains photographs of the micro-tentacles being used to grab and hold a tiny fish egg by winding around it conformally.

Photo: Jaeyoun (Jay) Kim