Just a Tentacled Micro-Robot Clutching a Helpless Ant

Image: Kim et al
Microscale „soft“ robots are a key feature of the robotic future, but they require suitably soft ways of manipulating micro-objects. A tiny translucent tentacle might make a lot of sense.

By Michael Byrne|MOTHERBOARD

The technology now exists, at least, courtesy of an Iowa State University-based team of engineers who’ve described their work in the current Scientific Reports. The point, as described in the paper, is to provide an alternative to the angular metal clutches of most of the robots we’re used to, thus enabling the „non-damaging manipulation of soft, fragile micro-objects.“ Like ants, but a lot of other stuff that’s likely biomedical in nature.

There are several problems involved in creating robots with micro-tentacles and they often reduce to fabrication technology. The appendages are pneumatically-driven—which enables the requisite softness—but the actuators needed to make that happen are generally too complex and consist of many sub-elements. The solution the ISU researchers found was a material known as polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), a silicon-based organic polymer with the unusual property of viscoelasticity. In some conditions it behaves as a thick liquid, like honey, and in others it’s more of a rubber-like solid. Jaeyoun Kim, the new paper’s lead author, had previously patented a method making PDMS-based wires.

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