Telecommuting surgeons are becomingly increasingly adept at working on humans but there are still limits on what they can do using the stiff metal manipulators of a robotic stand-in like the DaVinci. This new omnidirectional grasping appendage, however, could one day wind its way into the most remote corners of your body cavity and gently cradle your guts with the same dexterity as an octopus' tentacle.
Developed by a team at the Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies in Italy, the device is comprised of a pair of identical, interconnected modules wrapped in a flexible sleeve and separated by three inflatable bladders. Pumping air into the the bladders causes the device to stretch and flex while applying a vacuum to the membrane surrounding each module makes the appendage stiffen. According the the team's study (recently published in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics) the device can flex up to 255 degrees, stretch by as much as 62 percent and stiffen itself from 60 to 200 percent of its original state.
"The human body represents a highly challenging and non-structured environment, where the capabilities of the octopus can provide several advantages with respect to traditional surgical tools," lead author Dr Tommaso Ranzani wrote. "'Generally, the octopus has no rigid structures and can thus adapt the shape of its body to its environment. Taking advantage of the lack of rigid skeletal support, the eight highly flexible and long arms can twist, change their length, or bend in any direction at any point along the arm." The technology is still a couple years away from entering clinical trials so your robotic tentacle porn jokes will have to wait until then.