Engineers at Cornell University are perfecting methods to 3D print a realistic, adaptable tentacle. This helps robots to become more agile and dependable.
Robots are incredibly useful. They can do dangerous jobs, incredible feats and be applied in areas never thought possible. But how much is an intelligent tin can capable of? When a robot is rigid and stiff, it can run into problems… literally.
If a robot can’t move and adapt physically, it can get stuck pretty easily – which can be problematic i.e. at a search and rescue mission.
The field of Soft Robotics emerged specifically to combat this. As adaptability is one of the most important pieces of evolution, a successful robot needs to have relatively realistic, organic exterior. Unfortunately, these softer components usually have their own drawbacks.
Engineers at Cornell University have managed not only to create an incredibly agile soft robot, they 3D printed it. The project was inspired primarily by nature. Octopus tentacles, to be exact.
3D printed Tentacles, Modeled After Nature
The engineers released a paper (which can be found here), detailing their methods and results. Explaining that the octopus tentacle, with its complex movements, muscles and incredible dexterity, has long been considered a sort of holy grail for desired results, and grafting the same abilities onto a robot seems to be as good as it gets. Moreover, the team found that 3D printing was the only feasible way to realize such a lofty goal. While coupling the bottom-up assembly of 3D printing with soft materials is a great starting point, the engineers have had to refine their methods as printing high DOF (degree of freedom) has not yet been perfected.
The resulting tentacle is capable of a full 180 degrees of motion and reaction speeds that rival organic muscle. In fact, the video footage shows that these little robots are probably more flexible than most people. The study’s results also lay the groundbreaking foundation for a reliable way to directly print soft robots. Who knew the future of robotics rested on a 3D printed robot tentacle?
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