Photo courtesy of Kevin Galloway, Wyss Institute at Harvard University

Squishy robot fingers help divers nab fragile coral

How do you sample an organism that lives where humans can’t go, but is so fragile that regular robots could damage it? One team’s answer, according to National Geographic: squishy robot fingers. After learning that deep-diving robots often damage corals while taking samples for research, a roboticist realized that advances in “soft robotics” could help. Along with a marine biologist, he designed squishy gripping hands made of silicon rubber that inflate when pumped full of seawater, described in a paper in Soft Robotics. This invention allowed the researchers to safely collect coral samples at a depth of 2600 feet—8 times deeper than a scuba diver can reach. The technology may also be useful for underwater archaeology, where a soft touch could make all the difference.