MIT has developed a squishy robotic tentacle

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A squishy robot from MIT that looks, feels, and even blows up like bubble gum is an expert navigator that can snake its way through a tricky maze without human help. It sounds silly, but the bot’s creators say this goofy design is a serious model for future robots that can work alongside people safely. “It looks like a balloon animal,” Andrew Marchese, a graduate student at MIT who was a key designer of the robot, said.

MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Lab (CSAIL) has been developing different types of soft robots for a while: you might remember the mechanical fish from earlier this year that can swim like a real one. Now, that same laboratory has come up with another soft robot, and this time it’s inspired by a wriggly, slithery octopus tentacle. CSAIL’s robotic “arm” is made entirely out of silicone using 3D-printed molds — even the “motors” that propel it forward are merely hollow expandable silicone divided into sections. Air is then pumped into the appropriate sections in order for the tentacle to bend, slither and squeeze through.

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