MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Lab (CSAIL) has been developing different types of soft robots for a while: you might remember the mechanical fish from earlier this year that can swim like a real one. Now, that same laboratory has come up with another soft robot, and this time it's inspired by a wriggly, slithery octopus tentacle. CSAIL's robotic "arm" is made entirely out of silicone using 3D-printed molds -- even the "motors" that propel it forward are merely hollow expandable silicone divided into sections. Air is then pumped into the appropriate sections in order for the tentacle to bend, slither and squeeze through.
The researchers believe their soft robots have the potential to move through human environments a lot better than metal ones can. In the future, for instance, the arm could help handle delicate specimens in labs and even assist doctors on minimally invasive surgeries... but not until the team's done making a second version with fingers to pick up objects. Aside from CSAIL, there are many other educational institutions developing soft robots of their own, from a slug that oozes along and a three-legged one that can jump like a grasshopper to a rugged starfish-like machine that can take a beating.