This Tentacle-Like Robot Arm Uses Magnets to Move, Not Motors

Suzanne Humphries

Review Geek

Movie S5, Octopus-like robotic arm, stretching, bending & twisting motions

Shuai Wu, Qiji Ze, Jize Dai, Nupur Udipi, Glaucio H. Paulion, and Ruike Zhao

Much like art, science also imitates life. In this case, some clever scientists built a fascinating robot arm that looks and moves like an octopus’ tentacle. It collapses nearly flat and can stretch out to reach things far away from its base. But you’ll be surprised at how it moves like that.

The new robot’s design and movement were detailed in a paper recently published article in the journal PNAS. Those who worked on creating it discuss their inspiration—and octopus—and how they use a magnetic field, origami-like folds, and a soft exoskeleton across multiple segments to give the arm its unique, versatile appearance and movement ability.

Ruike Renee Zhao, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University and co-author on the paper, told Popular Science, “With the octopus, its nervous system is actually located in its arms. What we’re doing here is mimicking a highly intelligent arm system. Because its arm is so versatile it could have hundreds, thousands of different motions to interact with objects.”

Within each individual arm, you’ll find a string of small segments. Within each segment, there are two soft silicone hexagonal plates that are each embedded with magnetic particles and tilted plastic panels that comprise the robot’s iconic origami pattern. That pattern, in particular, is called the Kresling-Pattern, one that is designed to stretch, compress, and twist as it contracts and lengthens.

Omnidirectional bending and deploying of a four-unit Kresling robotic arm with relatively large bending angles.

Shuai Wu, Qiji Ze, Jize Dai, Nupur Udipi, Glaucio H. Paulion, and Ruike Zhao

Zhao and the robot’s other creators hope it will find its application in the biomedical world. Ideally, it could be used to assist in minimally invasive medical procedures like catheter or breathing tube insertion.

The unique robot is operated remotely by manipulating a strong magnetic field and an external magnetic actuator. As the team of scientists were building and testing the arm, they built a three-dimensional magnetic field around it. They got it to move by changing the direction of the field around the arm, and even make it move and bend by creating torque to drive the smaller segments (and fine-tune its movements). They can even control which parts of the arm bend, and which stay compressed or stretched straight ahead.

Zhao and the team said that everything about the arm is customizable, like its size, segment quantity, material composition, and strength of magnetization. This makes it even easier to bring to mass production for use in the medical world (or anywhere else). It’s a clever invention that’s sure to help across multiple industries. You can check out a few GIFs and short videos of the scientific testing here on PNAS.

via Popular Science

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