(Image: Jaeyoun Kim/Iowa State University)

Good news if you want to hold an insect rodeo. The robotic tentacle pictured above can handle tiny, fragile objects – capturing an ant without harming it.

The soft robot, developed by Jaeyoun Kim from Iowa State University and colleagues, can curl itself into a circle with a radius of just 200 micrometres. This is thanks to its microtube structure, fabricated from a kind of polymer called an elastomer. Existing robots inspired by animal tentaclesMovie Camera are larger, since it can be tricky to reproduce the spiralling motion at a small scale. The smallest designs are currently centimetre-sized.

(Image: Jaeyoun Kim/Iowa State University)

The tentacle was also able to grasp the egg of a fish called a capelin, shown above. These often deform and burst when handled by tweezers.

Such miniature soft robots could be useful for microsurgery. The lassoing motion and low force exerted by the tentacle could be an advantage in endovascular operations, for example, where the target for surgery is reached through blood vessels.

Journal reference: Scientific Reports, DOI: 10.1038/srep10768

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