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Watch a shape-shifting robot extend its tentacle

Many robots are inspired by animals, but now scientists have developed one that takes a cue from fungi. Engineers have designed a soft robot that moves by extending an artificial tendril into its surrounding environment, they report today in Science Robotics. Researchers were inspired by root growth in plants and fungi. This tubelike robot can grow up to 72 meters in length and extends by filling a thin plastic membrane with air from a pneumatic pump. Though it may look like a very long newspaper bag, the bot has a few tricks up its sleeve. By inflating specialized “control chambers” strategically placed throughout the membrane, the robot can not only move through its environment, but manipulate objects as well. Like the T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the bot can contort itself to fit through holes and form tools, such as hooks and antennas. The robot has many applications—from bringing water to hazardous areas for firefighting to tunneling through the ground during search and rescue operations—but it might be a while before we see those in action.