Vinelike Robotic Tentacles May Be Capable of Growing, Adapting to Environment

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While I can be as stubborn in resisting change as the next person, I’ve never shared the Skynet-fueled fear that robots will take control of the world and exterminate humans in Terminator-like fashion.

However, work recently unveiled by the Italian Institute of Technology does give me pause. As part of the European Commission’s GrowBot project, scientists have created tentacle-like robotic vines, which the researchers described as the world’s first tendril-inspired soft robot.

The vines’ movements are modeled after the way plants use their water transport system — or cytosol — inside their cells, tissues, and organs to move. This internal hydraulics system allows plants to adjust their level of rigidness and make small movements in order to better access water or sunlight.

The new soft robot is made of a flexible PET material that houses a liquid with electrically charged ions. Powered by a 1.3-volt battery, these particles are influenced by flexible electrodes at the bottom of the tendril, or tube, to create movement. Their movement causes the liquid to move, which results in the creeping, vinelike movements of the robotic tentacles.

The overarching goal of this project is to develop a robot that can grow and adapt to its surrounding environment, and adjust its movements based on the surfaces to which it attaches. Applications could include flexible robotic arms for search-and-rescue situations, as well as the development of wearable devices capable of morphing their shape in order to accommodate varying body types, avoiding interference with other equipment and ensuring a better fit.

So, at this point, would I be wearing the robot, or would the robot be wearing me?

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