Ask a typical robot to pick up a delicate object and it is likely to crush the thing between its clumsy metal mitts. That is why George Whitesides and colleagues at Harvard University have been developing a series of 'soft' robots with a lighter touch. Their latest creation is a robotic tentacle that can twist around a flower without damaging it.
The tentacle is made from flexible plastic containing three air channels that run along the entire limb. Pumping air into these channels causes the tentacle to bend, allowing it to curl around objects with a light grip.