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MIT develops soft robot ‘tentacle’

MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Lab (CSAIL) has developed a soft robot based on an octopus tentacle.

The university has been developing soft robots for some time now, and earlier this year revealed a mechanical fish that was able to mimic the swimming motion of a real animal.

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CSAIL's robotic arm is made entirely out of individual silicone segments made using 3D-printed moulds. Each section can be pumped full of air in order to propel the arm forward, enabling the device to bend and squeeze through small gaps.

It is hoped that the robotic arm will have a number of potential uses in the future. In particular, it is believed that soft robots can move through human environments a lot easier than metal ones, meaning the device could have uses in minimally invasive surgeries.

The next version of the device will include a finger gripper to enable it to pick up objects, and it is also hoped that the technology could be used to handle delicate specimens in a lab environment.

Away from MIT, a number of other organisations are devoting time and research to developing soft robots, with Harvard recently revealing a robot (opens in new tab) that jump over 30 times its body height.

MIT doctoral candidate Andrew Marchese said that although soft robots do not necessarily conform to most people's idea of what a robot should look like or do, they do have enormous potential.

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"I'm not saying that the world should be filled with robotic octopus tentacles on assembly lines," Marchese says. "I just want to challenge the notion that robots have to look or act a certain way."

Barclay has been writing about technology for a decade, starting out as a freelancer with IT Pro Portal covering everything from London’s start-up scene to comparisons of the best cloud storage services.  After that, he spent some time as the managing editor of an online outlet focusing on cloud computing, furthering his interest in virtualization, Big Data, and the Internet of Things.