Exciting news in the realm of miniature robotics is about to get a lot of attention from the medical industry. No longer will grabbing at incredibly small and fragile things and moving them out of the way be an issue in surgical procedures.
Scientists from Iowa State University have developed a new micro-robotic ‘tentacle' that is capable of grabbing a humble ant without doing any damage to the ant's body.
This is a big step up in engineering. Ants are very small and delicate, so having something capable of safely extracting the ant could be very useful in medical operations. Moreover, the new micro-robotic tentacles are also capable of grabbing fish eggs, which are also very fragile and have been known to burst when carefully handled with tweezers.
What makes these micro-robotic tentacles better than modern robotics is that they're soft and incredibly versatile, unlike modern robots, which are hard, large, and difficult to maneuver.
As noted by a study published in Scientific Reports, the arm is incredibly small, made of nanotubes at around just 185 μm thick, but all while having a grabbing force capable of around 0.78 mN. The micro-robotic tentacle wraps around whatever the user is trying to pick up and has such a light touch that it doesn't damage what it picks up in the process.
The small size, combined with the soft nanotubes and maneuverability give this new study some advantages for incredibly small items that are otherwise considered to be fragile.
Scientists behind the project say that the new grabbing technology could be useful in the future for surgeries involving incredibly thin blood vessels where the goal will be to move them out of the way without damaging them to get to what is hidden under them.
At this point in time, the project is still very much in testing, but it definitely has the potential to be very useful for smaller operations.