Iowa roboticist have figured out how to make soft micro-tentacles. The makers of this device describe it as "soft, safe and small."
(Pneumatic micro-tentacles grab ants video)
"Most robots use two fingers and to pick things up they have to squeeze," said Jaeyoun (Jay) Kim, an Iowa State University associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and an associate of the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory. "But these tentacles wrap around very gently."
And that makes them perfect hands and fingers for small robots designed to safely handle delicate objects.
The spiraling microrobotic tentacles are described in a research paper recently published in the journal Scientific Reports...
The paper describes how the engineers fabricated microtubes just 8 millimeters long and less than a hundredth of an inch wide. They're made from PDMS, a transparent elastomer that can be a liquid or a soft, rubbery solid. Kim, whose research focus is micro-electro-mechanical systems, has worked with the material for about a decade and has patented a process for making thin wires from it.
If you're wondering what it would be like to be grabbed by a micro-tentacle, take a look at this excerpt from the 2005 film War of the Worlds:
(Macro-Tentacles grab humans video)
As far as I know, the original novel contained the first references to the idea of mechanical tentacles, a very early use of biomimicry in fictional robotics. In his classic 1898 story, War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells referred to the "glittering tentacles" that enabled the Martian Tripods to both walk and grasp objects:
Seen nearer, the Thing was incredibly strange, for it was no mere insensate machine driving on its way. Machine it was, with a ringing metallic pace, and long, flexible, glittering tentacles (one of which gripped a young pine tree) swinging and rattling about its strange body.
(Read more about H.G. Wells steel tentacle)