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Intelligent Machines

This Robotic Tentacle Can Easily Grasp Smooth Objects

Its dexterity could make it invaluable in factories and homes.

Do not be alarmed, but this disembodied robotic tentacle can gracefully grasp smooth objects or pass them to your puny human hand.

The OctopusGripper has been created by German robotics firm Festo, which is no stranger to creating automatons modeled on nature. Its soft gripper is composed of two main mechanisms. Its silicone tentacle is pneumatically driven: when air is pumped into it, it curls inward to encircle whatever item it’s placed around. Then, two rows of suction cups, which can deform to accommodate unusually shaped objects, use a vacuum to ensure that the object stays in place.

As you can see, it works pretty well, and can be used to grasp smooth, curved objects, including balls, metal cylinders, bottles, and even rolled-up magazines. It’s notable because grasping irregularly shaped and slippery items is an incredibly difficult task for most robots, and advances such as this will make it easier for robots to take up more roles in factories and homes.

This isn’t, of course, the first wriggly robot to slither onto the scene. British firm OC Robotics has built a a laser-toting serpentine arm to carve up decommissioned nuclear power hardware, while oil giant Statoil has helped develop a robotic snake designed for undersea inspection. And, at the gentler end of the spectrum, researchers from the Tokyo Institute of Technology have built a 20-meter-long inflatable arm made from helium-filled balloons.

It is, however, one of the more dextrous robot arms out there. But despite its rather uncanny abilities to seize objects, you shouldn’t be too worried by the device's physical capabilities. Festo explains that because the “materials installed in the structure are also elastic and deformable, the gripper poses no danger to the user in direct contact.” Phew. Could it grab away your job, though? That might be another matter altogether.

(Read more: Festo, “This Laser-Toting Tentacle Carves Up Old Nuclear Hardware,” “Robot, Get the Fork Out of My Sink,” “Chasing Nature”)