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.
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