A team of researchers from Purdue University is taking cues from nature to inspire fast-acting robotics with chameleon-like reflexes capable of grabbing and maneuvering items with astonishing speed. With stretchable polymers, they say these soft robots could inform efficiency in future robot manufacturing.
High-powered and high-speed, the robots get their power from their elastic energy, or capability to expand to various degrees in order to move quickly. Internal pneumatic channels expand with pressure to snap and grab, yet are able to release their hold on an object by contracting. It all comes from biomimicry: the hyper-elastic tendons in woodpeckers, the snapping speed of Venus flytraps, and of course the quick-firing tongues of chameleons. One of the robots is capable of expanding up to five times its own length and can catch and retrieve a live flying beetle in just 120 milliseconds. (Tell that to the fruit flies haunting your kitchen.)